When I was introduced to Pelotonia in 2014, I thought it was just a bike ride.
After years of trying to convince me we should buy bicycles, my wife, Melissa, succeeded that spring, and her first priority was to ride in Pelotonia. Mine was to enjoy sunny Sunday afternoons.
I didn't join her, but after witnessing the incredible energy in Pickerington after her 25-mile ride, I promised myself I wouldn't be a spectator again. A year later, I rode 50 miles from downtown Columbus to New Albany.
Still, something was missing. Maybe it is because I viewed it as my accomplishment, reaching my goal. It was about me.
Like many journalists, every day I don the armor of detachment. It's a survival mechanism because dealing with unpleasant stories is part of the job.
I had resisted letting cancer become personal, even though, like most people, I've been acquainted with it all my life: My grandfather died of lung cancer. One of my first friends in Columbus died of brain cancer. My grandmother and my sister-in-law are both cancer survivors. We all could go on and on.
Last year, I let it get personal.
A cycling companion persuaded me to ride 100 miles in Pelotonia, from Columbus to Kenyon College in Gambier. A century ride on a bicycle is a bucket-list item for every rider, but I had little confidence in my ability to reach that milestone.
At the same time, a dear friend took a turn for the worse in her bout with cancer.
Lisa Osbourne was a Hilliard resident. She was a wife to Richard, better known as Oz; a mother to two awesome young men, Cole and Joey; and a beloved friend to many.
Melissa and I hit it off with Lisa and Oz when we met them at the Fishinger and Kenny Church of Christ shortly after we moved to central Ohio in 2007.
We had common roots: Lisa grew up in a small West Virginia town virtually across the Ohio River from where I went to elementary school and where my grandmother still lives.
We had common experiences: Lisa had lived in New York City, and Melissa and I had just moved back to Ohio from the panhandle of Connecticut, 30 miles from the Big Apple.
A few years ago, Lisa was diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer. She fought and fought, but it would not retreat.
When the dreaded outcome became a reality, I stood in her hospital room as a witness to her will.
At that moment, I realized why I was riding in Pelotonia: It was more than a bike ride.
The seventh story by Sarah Sole and this companion column mark the end of our six-week series on Pelotonia.
We chose the title #MoreThanABikeRide because all initial discussions and interviews preparing for the series came back to one theme: a multitude of central Ohioans from diverse backgrounds and experiences working in unison to achieve one goal, an end to cancer.
Watching a loved one battle cancer can make you feel powerless. In any form, cancer is a ravaging, dreadful disease that can take a toll on the mind as well as the body.
Pelotonia, on the other hand, is about empowerment. Most of us never will search for a cure or provide care to patients, but we can help fund medical breakthroughs and treatments. We can join the home team instead of sitting on the sidelines. We can do it by volunteering, by donating or, in my case, by pedaling.
I realized 100 miles was a goal to motivate my fundraising efforts to end cancer, not the other way around.
During every training ride, I thought about the family members, friends and co-workers who never surrendered to cancer, even though many lost their lives.
That gets me past the burning quads, achy hamstrings and sore back.
That gets me back on the bike when I don't think I can do it again. Riding one block turns into 1 mile; 1 mile becomes 10; 10 becomes 25 and I just keep going.
Lisa died July 6, 2016, at age 45, one month before my century ride.
I thought about her as I crossed the finish line at Kenyon College, and I reflected on a world where no more children had to lose a parent to cancer, where no other husband or wife had to watch a spouse die in a hospital bed from it, where no one ever again had to witness a friend be stripped of his or her vitality by this awful disease.
It seemed a lot closer to reality.
Neil Thompson is an assignment editor for ThisWeek Community News. He will ride 45 miles and raise $1,500 for cancer research for the Dispatch Media Group peloton during Pelotonia 2017. Contact him at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter at @TWNeilThompson.