Upper Arlington couple travel in tandem to support Pelotonia

NATE ELLIS
nellis@thisweeknews.com
Upper Arlington residents Gregg Goldenbagen and Mary Beth Cowardin want to raise $2,000 through 20 rides on a tandem bicycle. "You really have to ride in sync to ride tandem, and we're all in this together," Cowardin said.

Although they were drawn to Pelotonia for different reasons, the annual ride forged a union for an Upper Arlington couple who continue to take on cancer together.

An avid cyclist since college, Gregg Goldenbagen was recruited several years ago to take part in Pelotonia, the annual cycling ride to support cancer research at Ohio State University's James Cancer Center and Solove Research Institute.

He has remained committed because of cancer's impact on people close to him, including former coworker Randy Kelly, who lost a battle with colon cancer in 2003.

"Friends talked me into getting involved in Pelotonia, and I never looked back once I got involved," he said. "It's a pretty spectacular event."

Fellow Upper Arlington resident Mary Beth Cowardin was not a cycling enthusiast when she joined the Girls with Gears peloton 11 years ago.

Rather, she was determined to do her part to support family members and friends who have battled various forms of the disease.

The lengthy list includes her mother, Betsy Cowardin, who battled breast cancer twice; her father, Jim Cowardin, who dealt with prostate cancer; and her sister, Claire Mahoney, who has fought thyroid cancer.

"For me, personally, having that group to train with and be accountable to I knew was important," said Cowardin, who now co-chairs Girls with Gears.

"Most of us, when we started with Girls with Gears, didn't have a lot of experience in cycling," she said. "What we pride ourselves in with that group is there's something for everyone. It's been an amazing experience of friendship."

Cowardin and Goldenbagen met through Pelontonia, and their relationship rolled on to a trip down the aisle.

"Three years ago, on Aug. 12, 2017, we got married," Cowardin said. "It was the weekend after Pelotonia. During the ride the weekend before, Gregg wore a tuxedo jersey and I wore a bridal sash and veil."

The couple once again were set to take part in Pelotonia this year, which was slated for Aug. 7-9.

However, because of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, the traditional weekend ride was canceled in May and reimagined as a virtual event.

This year, participants have set their own fundraising and activity goals and are tracking them through mypelotonia.org.

There also will be a unifying event in the spirit of Pelotonia's opening ceremony: a broadcast called Legends LIVE! that will be streamed at 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."

To continue their participation this year, Cowardin and Goldenbagen hope to raise $2,000 through 20 rides – and they're doing it on a tandem bicycle.

"We're trying to get 20 new people to join the event this year, and we're pledging to raise $2,000," Cowardin said. "Each ride is around 20 miles.

"The tandem bike is just something different. It's the togetherness part of it. You really have to ride in sync to ride tandem, and we're all in this together."

Lisa Hinson, Girls with Gears co-founder and co-chairwoman, has known Cowardin since the late 1980s, when they were Kappa Alpha Theta sisters at Ohio State. She said she's not surprised by the decision of Cowardin and Goldenbagen to ride tandem this year because Cowardin always has brought creativity to Pelotonia.

"She's never short on ideas on how to raise funds, how to make the experience more dynamic for Girls with Gears and just generally helping forge stronger relationships among our membership," Hinson said. "Her personal passion for cancer research is ever present.

"She keeps those that she loves who have faced this disease at the forefront of her Pelotonia involvement," Hinson said. "She is so committed to this cause and honors her family and friends by remaining committed to the effort year after year."

Hinson said the couple's commitment to Pelotonia is "unwavering" and inspires others.

"They host events for our peloton, they volunteer for Pelotonia, they participate and help guide training rides and so much more," Hinson said. "They set an example for the rest of us that you can always give more of yourself, particularly when it comes to Pelotonia, which positively impacts so many people."

Cowardin said her motivation, and Goldenbagen's, continues to be in achieving a world that's cancer-free.

"I think the money has done some wonderful things and the researchers at The James have done wonderful things," she said. "But we can't stop pedaling.

"We've made progress, but there's still more to do."

nellis@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekNate