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Ohio State students reflect on Pelotonia experience as race wraps up

Many riders in the 2017 Pelotonia write down the names of family members and friends who have been affected by cancer. Credit: Ris Twigg | Assistant Photo Editor

Participants in Pelotonia ride for their mothers, fathers, cousins, sisters, brothers, friends and others affected by cancer. Sam Guirlinder rides for you.

As part of the fundraiser for cancer research, bicycle riders put the names of who they ride for on the back of their racing shirts.In three years of riding, Guirlinder, a fifth-year in organizational behavior and leadership development, has always put ‘You’ on the back of hers because, she said, cancer can affect anyone and everyone, she said.

She’s raised thousands of dollars over her past three rides, and is currently acting as the vice president of fundraising on Ohio State’s student executive board.

“This money could save your life one day,” Guirlinder said.

Of the thousands of people riding and volunteering for Pelotonia this weekend, many are Ohio State students like Guirlinder — working to be part of something bigger than themselves.

After signing up initially to ride the race to better her fitness, her first Pelotonia race was all it took for her to be attached to the cause. After riding and witnessing all the volunteers cheering alongside the route with signs saying “Thank you” and seeing the crowds of people gather around riders in support, Guirlinder said she became emotional and realized Pelotonia was much more than a race.

Flags hang along the Pelotonia route in remembrance of biker’s family and friends who have been affected by cancer. Credit: Jack Westerheide | Photo Editor

“I cried going through Pickerington; I balled my eyes out on my bike,” Guirlinder said. “They had the cheerleading team and random average Joes standing outside with us.”

Guirlinder said once she started to cry, she knew it wouldn’t be her last ride in the fundraiser.

Sam Guirlinder, fourth from the left, stands with Ohio State students prepared to race in Peltonia. Courtesy of Sam Guirlinder.

Though she did not have an emotional connection to anyone with cancer when she first began, Guirlinder said after getting more involved she sees the far-reaching hold the disease has on so many.

She said all of her best friends know someone or have someone close to them who is affected by cancer, so she now has motivation to ride for them, as well.

“The hope is that they’re going to find a cure for us one day,” Guirlinder said. “My friends, family, self.”

Among the student riders biking are those that participate in research funded through Pelotonia, as well.

Alex Sprague, a third-year in neuroscience, was sponsored by the fundraiser’s revenue as a Pelotonia fellow — a researcher whose salary comes from the race. He said around 25 Ohio State students are chosen after an application process to become a fellow.

Applicants submit in-depth research proposals with a full research plan on what they want to accomplish for the year.

The students are also supported by a principle investigator in the lab — a PhD or M.D. researcher who oversees their work.

Sprague worked on research specific to breast cancer during the 2016-17 academic year, analyzing whether a virus would work in preventing cancer cells in breasts from spreading to the brain.

He said the money given to him by Pelotonia allowed for him to no longer search for a job because he could support himself financially. He said this allowed for him to have more time focusing on research.

Alex Sprague has participated in Pelotonia for two years. Courtesy of Alex Sprague.

“I learned a lot and we made a lot of really good progress,” Sprague said. “I felt the impact that Pelotonia has and the change that could be brought by it.”

Sprague first rode last year as part of his role as a fellow, and said he ended up finishing the race with other researchers.

“The six of us ended up riding side by side across the finish line. It was really cool to have that camaraderie,” Sprague said. “We’re making this change in the world. Especially as researchers, we’re at the forefront of trying to fight this war on cancer.”

His mother died from cancer when he was two years old. This is his second year riding in Pelotonia.

This, he said, “is kind of my way to honor her.”

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