Each year since the first Pelotonia ride in 2009, Shirley Jordan has volunteered for the annual charity bicycle tour.

The first year, she served breakfast for riders.

During opening festivities this weekend in downtown Columbus, she will help participants drop off bicycles Friday, Aug. 4, and find them before the ride starts Saturday, Aug. 5.

Jordan will be one of nearly 3,000 volunteers who assist with Pelotonia activities Aug. 4 to 6, completing tasks that range from registration to keeping riders fed and hydrated to assisting with bike maintenance.

In a nutshell, volunteers keep Pelotonia rolling.

For Jordan, a 57-year-old Westerville resident, it is a deeply personal experience.

Jordan has metastatic thyroid cancer in her lungs. Because the tumor is growing slowly, she said, her doctors are monitoring it for now.

"I want to give back to the community that has given me so much, and I want to work to help move treatment forward," she said. "Any advancements for any type of cancer (are) a win for all of us. We are all touched somehow by cancer, and I am one of the lucky ones.

"Pelotonia weekend is long, it is hot and it is exhausting, but at the end of the day, I know that what I did potentially could make a difference in people's lives for generations to come."

Pelotonia has raised more than $135 million since it was founded in 2008. All money raised goes toward some form of research at Ohio State University's James Cancer Hospital. Recipients of those funds are invested in the cause by participating in the bike tour and fundraising, too.

More than 7,950 riders and 280 pelotons – a term used for Pelotonia's fundraising teams that generally is defined as the primary group of cyclists in a race – are expected to take part this weekend.

Tasks at hand

Pelotonia requires a year's worth of planning and more than 30 types of volunteers, said Amber Herron, event operations and volunteer coordinator.

The route covers 180 miles and three days, she said, so every detail, from how many grapes are at each rest stop to creating a new layout for the opening ceremony, must be considered.

From a logistical standpoint, the volunteers are the most essential pieces of the puzzle, Herron said.

"Without those passionate, dedicated and hardworking volunteers and the leadership of the lead volunteers, Pelotonia weekend would not be possible," she said. "They are the ones who really make the experience for the riders amazing and unforgettable."

All of the event's 14 rest stops are staffed by general volunteers, who are responsible for ensuring ice is on hand, preparing peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches and directing riders to the proper locations.

In addition to cleaning tables and disposing of trash, volunteers also staff start and finish lines and ensure bikes are shipped back to their respective starting points, Herron said.

Specialized volunteers are recruited to deliver first aid, give massages at the finish lines and provide bike maintenance, Herron said.

Each rest stop and start and finish venue includes first-aid, mechanical and general volunteers. Mechanical volunteers need to bring their own tools and know basic maintenance, such as how to repair a flat tire, she said.

Pelotonia also works with the Ohio State Highway Patrol and local law-enforcement agencies from Columbus to Gambier to ensure that every major intersection on Pelotonia's more than 180 miles of routes is manned by an officer, Herron said.

Roads can't be closed for the event, so Pelotonia pays 250 officers along the route to direct traffic and alert vehicles to cyclists, Herron said.

Reasons to volunteer

Suzanne Knott, a 39-year-old Columbus resident, said she began volunteering with Pelotonia in 2010 as a way to show support for the surgeons she works with as a hospital administrator.

Now a lead volunteer, Knott said, she enjoys meeting cancer patients and those who stand alongside the route to cheer on the riders.

She said she has formed friendships and stays in touch with those she meets.

"Everyone has a different story of how cancer has touched or affected them," she said.

Krista Heisler, a 30-year-old resident of New Albany, is a fifth-year rider who also has volunteered for three years.

The personal trainer said she fell in love with Pelotonia after a client introduced her to it.

Heisler, who was a lead volunteer last year, said she enjoys getting people excited about the event, in which she will ride 100 miles.

"I like encouraging people," she said. "I like talking to people about their story."

One of her favorite parts, Jordan said, is talking to the riders, learning their stories and hearing about what motivates them.

"It's life-changing to be down there and to see what everybody can do," she said.

Logistics and locations

The opening ceremony in downtown Columbus is scheduled from 3 to 9 p.m. Aug. 4 at McFerson Commons Park, 218 West St., and North Bank Park, 311 W. Long St.

Activities include rider check-ins, a dinner buffet from 4 to 8 p.m. and the opening ceremony at 7 p.m.

The primary cycling day is Aug. 5. Pelotonia riders choose from among four one-day rides of 25, 45, 55 and 100 miles and two-day rides of 135 and 180 miles, and they commit to raising dollar amounts that correspond to each level of mileage. For example, 45-mile riders must raise $1,500.

Unlike last year, when Columbus Commons also was a starting point, all routes except the 55- and 135-mile rides will begin downtown at McFerson Commons Park, with the 100- and 180-mile riders beginning at 7 a.m. and the 25- and 45-milers starting at 9 a.m.

The 55- and 135-mile riders will start at 8:30 a.m. at the Bob Evans headquarters in New Albany.

The one-day routes finish Aug. 5 at Pickerington High School North (25 miles), Bevelhymer Park in New Albany (45 miles) and Kenyon College in Gambier (55 and 100 miles).

The two-day routes resume Aug. 6, with 135- and 180-mile riders departing at 7 a.m. from Kenyon to ride 80 miles back to New Albany's Market Square.

Riders may register at pelotonia.org until the morning of Aug. 5, Herron said. Volunteer registration ended July 31, she said, but pelotonia.org is the place to sign up for next year.

By the numbers

What does it take to run Pelotonia? A year of planning, an army of volunteers and a bevy of unexpected odds and ends, according to organizers:

•2,556 first-time riders registered (33 percent of participants)

•256 nine-time riders registered (3 percent)

•39 states and eight countries represented by riders

•An average age of 42 among riders

•415 cancer survivors riding (5 percent of participants)

•A 56 percent to 44 percent male-to-female ratio for riders

•281 pelotons 

•3,310 registered virtual riders (Virtual riders still may register at pelotonia.org through Oct. 6, the fundraising deadline.)

•250 police officers

•9,000 “green arrow” car magnets

•6,000 yard signs

•620 portable toilets

•700 jars of peanut butter

•700 jars of jelly

•1,400 loaves of bread

•2,075 bags of ice (22.5 tons)

•1,700 bike racks

Editors note: All figures are as of July 26.

Next week

Watch for photos from Pelotonia weekend at ThisWeekNEWS.com and in select print editions.