Family connection to cause keeps Westerville's Mannings pedaling for Pelotonia

FRANK DIRENNA
fdirenna@thisweeknews.com
Westerville's Matt Manning and his wife, Emily, are participating in a virtual and individualized approach to the annual Pelotonia. The Mannings are dedicating this year's ride to Emily's sister, Erin Williams, who is battling brain cancer. The Mannings are pictured following last year's race.

Already an avid supporter of Pelotonia, Westerville's Matt Manning entered this year's virtual version with a little extra motivation.

Manning, who is competing in his seventh Pelotonia fundraiser, has again dedicated his efforts to his sister-in-law, Erin Williams, who was diagnosed with brain cancer in 2017.

While visiting Williams at the Ohio State University's James Cancer Center and Solove Research Institute, where she was receiving treatment, Manning set a goal of completing 21 rides of 21 miles or more for each floor of the James.

Because of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic and a desire to keep participants, volunteers and supporters safe, Pelotonia in May canceled its annual weekend ride and in-person events, which were slated Friday to Sunday, Aug. 7 to 9.

But a reimagined 2020 Pelotonia has been rolling on virtually, with participants setting their own fundraising and activity goals and tracking them through mypelotonia.org to continue the mission of supporting cancer research at the James.

"The writing was on the wall a little bit, so mentally you're prepared for it, but you're so really hopeful because it's such a passionate thing for me," Manning said of the event going virtual. "I have cancer affecting my family currently. My sister-in-law is battling (stage 4) brain cancer. It's an emotional day and an emotional week where you see you're really involved in the community.

"To know that I'm not going to be able to ride in front of all the people that are out supporting it, holding up signs and cheering us on, it really stinks."

Manning, who is a chairman for the Huntington Peloton, is hoping his team can improve on last year's strong fundraising effort.

As of July 29, Manning had completed 14 of his 21 rides. He said his team has been able to ride in small groups with an emphasis on social distancing.

"We're still trying to do as much as we can to motivate," he said. "We feel an obligation to try to recruit as many people to join as possible."

Manning, who previously committed to raise $2,000 individually each year, is targeting $1,250.

Manning's wife, Emily, who is Williams' sister, is participating in her fourth Pelotonia.

"As we've had to pivot away from our traditional mass physical gathering this year, our priority has been to create new opportunities for our community to engage and continue to raise critical funds for cancer research," said Doug Ulman, president and CEO of Pelotonia. "The My Pelotonia platform and upcoming Legends LIVE! broadcast on Friday, Aug. 7, allow anyone, anywhere to play an important role in Pelotonia's mission this year.

"Legends LIVE! will be a celebration of what we've accomplished so far and the important work still to come -- featuring moving and uplifting stories of survival, research successes, musical performances and many special guests."

Last year, Huntington's nationwide team consisted of 1,301 actual riders, 837 virtual riders and over 1,000 volunteers, and raised $3.6 million.

"Last year we were the largest Peloton both in number of riders and amount raised," Manning said. "There's a lot of recruiting going on and there's still a lot of talking to our key donors to try to continue to make sure they understand the impact. As much as Peloton is a ride, the backbone is that it's a charity for cancer research. Our goal is to make sure that message doesn't get lost."

This year's format includes a unifying event in the spirit of Pelotonia's traditional opening ceremony: a special broadcast called Legends LIVE! that will be streamed on pelotonia.org/rise, Facebook (facebook.com/pelotonia) and YouTube (youtube.com/ridepelotonia) from 7 to 8 p.m. Aug. 7.

fdirenna@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekFrank