Pedaling for a cure

Cancer is a terrible disease, and is so widespread that it has touched nearly everyone in one way or another. While the disease can be devastating, it also comes with a certain degree of hope. Speak with even one survivor and it’s impossible not to feel inspired; it seems to puts things in perspective. For Associate Professor of Criminal Justice and Chair of the Social Sciences Jill Fort, inspiration isn’t enough. Professor Fort has been working for nearly two years to help raise money and awareness for cancer research. This year alone she has raised $10,000. How does she do it? By hopping on a bike and riding amazing distances.

Fort calls “century rides” charity. As the name suggests, a century ride is
a 100 mile biking event that raises money for a good cause. The riders ask for donations then complete the race in memory of those fighting tough battles. Typically Dr. Fort participates only in events that raise money for cancer research, but a quick Google search shows that these races raise money for all sorts of causes. Before you pick a worthy cause and jump on the nearest bike, don’t forget that the build-up to a hundred miles comes with time and preparation.

Professor Fort was not initially a fitness buff and was even a smoker.

“There was an old skit on “Saturday Night Live” about how the only exercise they (the character) got was walking the trash to the curb and back, and I realized that was me,” she says.

Not one to sit idle, Fort immediately started walking, then jogging and finally running. At some point along the way the exercise routine became a habit. Little did she know that the greatest benefit of all that exercise wouldn’t be for her own health, but also for the health of others.

In February 2014, her husband’s partner in the police department was taken
by leukemia. This loss and personal connection was the spark that ignited a new passion for Fort. She was asked if she would participate in a cycling race to raise money for the Leukemia Lymphoma Society. As with many families, cancer has affected the Fort family deeply. Aside from her husband’s partner, the Forts have lost several others; it’s in the memory and spirit of these people she said “yes” to participate in her first race.

Having not spent much time on a bike since age 12, Fort was slightly nervous about this new experience and even needed a bike! Within minutes her
new team provided her everything she needed–a bike, pads and even fruit chews. Starting with 20-mile bike rides on weekends, she builds up year ‘round increasing in five mile increments. Riding with at least one partner, and always with a helmet, Fort works her way towards the end goal–a 100-mile bike ride around Lake Tahoe, which is the culmination of her training and effort.

“Even on a bad day, being on my bike is a chance to think about everything, and nothing, said Fort.”

The grind up to the century ride is the hardest part, according to Fort. She says, “Once you get there the ride is dubbed America’s Most Beautiful Bike Ride, and it lives up to its name.”

Riding along the entire outskirts of Lake Tahoe, the scenery is resplendent and the early morning air helps keep riders cool. After riding out to a little town and back around the lake, the ride is over for the year. In the past 14 years, event participants have raised $65.8 million for cancer research!

“If you can make a difference in a person’s life, why not try? One hundred miles on a bike is nothing compared to what they are going through. Too many people have been affected by this terrible disease,” says Fort.

With all that money raised, a difference is surely being made for someone struggling with this awful disease.