TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) – A cycling challenge to raise funds for cancer prevention research, cancer patient support and support for hungry children is heading to Tampa next year.
The Pan-Florida Challenge Cancer Ride takes place annually in March and this year, from March 26-27, it includes five routes from Tampa, beginning at USF Riverfront Park, in addition to others in Fort Myers.
The ride brings together dedicated cyclists of all skill levels, all with a mission to fight cancer.
Executive Director Jeri Goetz explained the nonprofit was originally founded as a hunger relief organization. In 2014, a group of cyclists rode across the state without stopping for a fundraiser to provide 134,000 meals for children in Haiti. The ride gave one of the cyclists, Pan-Florida Challenge founder Ed Mullen, the inspiration for his own organization.
Through the years, the Pan-Florida Challenge began looking beyond feeding hungry kids to address health repercussions of malnutrition, including cancer.
“[We looked at] the long-term health impacts of a child being malnourished and they were quite significant. We learned from our friends at Moffitt [Cancer Center] that a child who is undernourished or eats the wrong types of food in their youth has a much more likelihood of developing cancer later in life,” Goetz explained.
Pan-Florida Challenge is partnered with Moffitt Cancer Center to support the Cancer Chemoprevention Research Interest Group. According the organization’s website, studies are conducted on the relationship between “food, cancer prevention, the risk of developing cancer, treatment and survival.”
The organization is able to help fund that research, cancer patient support and its work with elementary schools and after school programs to provide weekly meals to kids, through two big events: the ride and a golf tournament.
The Pan-Florida Challenge Cancer Ride is now in its eighth year. Routes include 30, 62, 100 and 200 miles (a two-day ride with a hotel stay after 100 miles) starting in Fort Myers. The Tampa event offers the same length of rides, but also includes a 10-mile ride.
All riders must meet a minimum fundraising goal to participate, aside from the 10-mile riders in Tampa.
“We ask riders to fundraise for the cause and one of the things that makes our charity ride different from others is that 100% of the funds that riders raise go directly to supporting the mission,” Goetz said.
New to the ride this year is breast cancer survivor and Moffitt employee Janelle Morales. She is signed up for the 62-mile ride after stumbling upon the challenge researching charity cycling rides online with her boyfriend.
“I got into that initially last year during COVID. I started out just riding a hybrid cruiser bike, you know, and then I eventually graduated on to a road bike and I’ve really taken a liking to it,” Morales said.
She said her goal for her team, “Cancer Crushers,” is to recruit five riders and raise $5,000. Morales is planning on fundraising like many other riders are, through social media and asking family, friends and colleagues. She may also hold some events herself, having experience with “Miles for Moffitt.”
As for training, Morales said she is trying to do about 20 miles per training session on the weekends and once or twice a week.
“I don’t always get in that many miles, sometimes it’s just 12 to 15. And then I’ll just eventually just add on more miles as the ride day gets closer, and I’ll probably do close to 60 miles maybe a couple times prior to ride day,” she said.
For Morales, it’s more than just a ride or a challenge for her physically.
“The core reason why do it is because I lost my aunt to cancer. She was in her late 30s. She left a young daughter behind and then ironically, in January 2016, I was diagnosed with breast cancer,” she said.
“There’s a lot of camaraderie when you’re riding for a purpose, so beyond kind of just the weekend ride for anything, there are a lot of people who like to ride for a cause and this is a perfect ride to do that,” Goetz said.
The fact the Pan-Florida Challenge is a ride for a cause, not a timed race, is appealing to riders like Morales.
“It’s one team doing it for one cause so that makes me feel a little bit more comfortable about about doing it as a first-time rider,” she said.
Registration is still open for all lengths of courses and riders can also choose to join a team or form their own team. Fees, fundraising minimums and start times vary by route. Virtual registration is also welcome in the Pan-Florida Challenge.
“I’ve always said since my diagnosis and getting through my treatment, now I have the opportunity to give back,” Morales said. “I have said many times, ‘the fight doesn’t stop with me.’ I’ve got to continue it so this is sort of my way of giving back.”