Pelotonia is 'life-changing experience' for Julia Duncan

JACK McLAUGHLIN
lcochran@thisweeknews.com
Julia Duncan (center) of Canal Winchester is pictured with Emily Dotson (left) and Gai Mei Wong at a rest stop during last year's race.

Nearly 50 miles into the 2019 Pelotonia, Julia Duncan was tired.

She was taking on the 100-mile ride for the first time, after completing 25 miles in her first Pelotonia in 2018, and she wasn't about to back down.

With the sun in her eyes and a steep hill directly in front of her, the Canal Winchester resident wanted to quit. What willed her to proceed wasn't the cheering onlookers or the months of physical preparation. It was something much simpler: two names she wrote on her arms during a stop in that race.

It's common Pelotonia practice for riders to write the names of friends or family members affected by cancer on their bodies; last year, Duncan did that.

As a patient-care resource manager at Ohio State University's James Cancer Center and Solove Research Institute, Duncan regularly works with and develops meaningful relationships with people battling the disease. The names she chose to write on her forearms were those of two patients to whom she had grown particularly close.

"I happened to have two patients who were both really having quite a time with their disease," she said. "They were fighting it for a long time.

"I got to this point where it was really hard, and I was starting to feel like just so overwhelmed. And I had my marker with me. So at the next stop, I wrote them on. And I didn't look back. Seeing their names whenever I looked down, it was so emotional. It was all I needed to push through."

Now a year removed from her first 100-mile ride, something she describes as a "life-changing experience," Duncan, 50, is hooked. She aims to repeat the feat, but must work within Pelotonia's altered format in 2020.

Because of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic and a desire to keep participants, volunteers and supporters safe, Pelotonia organizers decided in May to cancel the annual weekend ride and in-person events, which were slated for 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.

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.

"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."

Even though this year's Pelotonia will follow a much different format, Duncan said it won't stop her from riding for the cause. She plans to participate in two rides with members of Team CTCL, which stands for cutaneous T-cell lymphoma, a nod to her workplace.

The first ride, set to take place Aug. 8, will be 100 miles. Alongside coworker Gretchen McNally, Duncan will begin on the Darby Creek Trail on the west side of Columbus and pass through the communities of London, South Charleston and Cedarville before arriving in Xenia. From there, the route will turn north to Yellow Springs, where the pair will then circle back the way they came.

Duncan also plans a 25-mile ride, likely in September, with several other members of Team CTCL, including Sara Espich, Kim Holt, Ashley Sica, Kim Rellinger and team captain Anna Maria Bittoni.

Duncan said she is doing everything she can to make sure Sica's inaugural Pelotonia is as inspirational as her own was in 2018.

"It is a different year, but it doesn't change anything," she said.

"We wanted to incorporate a few different things and make sure everyone gets a full Pelotonia experience."

Duncan has a list of goals for herself this year; one is to bike a total of 2,020 miles.

"I thought 2020 was kind of a bad year, so I wanted to turn it into something nice," she said.

Perhaps the most important element of the whole event, Duncan said, is that money is raised for The James and cancer research. Her fundraising goal this year is set at $2,020. Last year, she committed to raising $1,250 and ended up collecting $2,301.

"It's not just about finishing the ride.There's so much more to this," she said. "Remembering that the money I'm raising is going to hire different Pelotonia fellows and go to research -- money that's available quickly instead of waiting for a grant; money that can make a difference."

editorial@thisweekews.com

@ThisWeekNews