As Jeffrey Gruett reflected on preparing for his ninth Pelotonia, he fought back tears as he thought about the special people behind his motivation.
Gruett, 56, also is a cancer survivor after a battle with melanoma that was diagnosed in the fall of 2015. (Editor's note: After the initial interview for this story, Gruett's dermatologist notified him that two recent skin biopsies contained basal-cell carcinoma and an early melanoma much like the one in 2015. "It was again caught early and all should be good," he said.)
He said he rides in memory of his mother, Judy, who died from ovarian cancer at the age of 44; his close friend, Bruce Weaver, who died from melanoma; and his father-in-law, John Arthur, who died from lung cancer.
"As I'm riding, I'm thinking about my mom and my friend, they went through a lot," said Gruett, a Dublin resident. "Years later it's still hard. I get emotional sometimes, but I ride for her and my friends. When I'm riding I think about them and the pain they went through, in my way I'm taking the pain for (them)."
Following the death of Weaver, Gruett decided to be checked for the disease, which was detected.
"I had a best friend who passed away from melanoma and that's what made me get my skin scanned," Gruett said. "I always look at it this way: My friend saved my life. We caught it early, so that's why I thank my friend for saving my life."
Gruett, who said he has been an avid rider for several years, will participate in the 100-mile route from Columbus to Gambier on Aug. 5.
In the past, he has ridden individually, but this year he joined the Melanoma Team peloton, a subdivision of Ohio State's superpeloton, Team Buckeye.
Gruett said he gains extra motivation from supporters displaying signs along the route.
"This is the thing I look forward to every summer," he said. "I always wanted to do something to find a way to support the research. I've worked at OSU Physicians Inc. for 23 years and I see these things going on every day.
"I've always looked for a way to pay back or to help out and losing your mom at a young age is a pretty devastating thing."
Gruett, who works in the billing department for OSU Physicians, said the practice has supported his effort. He said he is known in the building as the "Pelotonia guy."
"I get a lot of support from people around here and my friends and family because they know how passionate I am about bringing awareness and funding and research," Gruett said.
"It's a networking thing. The more you do it, the more people know about it and the more it spreads. It started because of my mom and it's grown from there."