COMMUNITY • BY JAMIE LEE
While many college students struggle to find jobs or internships for the summer, two young women from Gaithersburg decided to do something radical: bike 4,000 miles across the country to support cancer communities along the way.
Alice Jiang is a rising senior at University of Maryland Baltimore County. Sandi Htut is a recent graduate of the same school. Former roommates and now current teammates, they’re on their way from Baltimore to San Francisco, a 70-day trek.
Their transnational journey is also known as 4K for Cancer. It’s a program of the Ullman Cancer Fund for Young Adults, a non-profit organization based in Baltimore. According to their website, their goal is to enhance lives by “supporting, educating, and connecting young adults, and their loved ones, affected by cancer.”
While not directly impacted by cancer, Alice saw a ripe opportunity. “I was really passionate about service, [and] being in college kind of wore that down for me. I thought this would be a great way to give back and do something really crazy,” she said.
Sandi had similar reasons. “After graduating from UMBC, I thought this was a good way to end my college years by doing something that many think is impossible,” she said.
Alice had friends who did it the previous summer and applied on a whim. “It was really spontaneous,” she said. Shortly after, she texted Sandi. “I was like hey, I think I’m going to do this. And she applied too.”
The application process consisted of essay questions and a phone interview. The questions asked about connections to the cancer community and health and fitness. Both women made it through to be two of 88 riders.
Alice started training hard after the initial whimsy of signing up. “I started by running as much as I could…around two miles a day. I tried to do as much cardio as possible.”
In addition to a tight exercise schedule, Alice began fundraising. Together, her and Sandi raised $10,860, which goes to the Ullman Cancer Fund to assist with their fundraising efforts and programming costs.
Program Coordinator Stephen Hersey explained the breakdown of the donations. “For every dollar donated to the Ullman Cancer Fund, 5% goes to the administrative program support, 12% is spent on fundraising, and 83% is spent on program costs, which includes supporting the rides and all of our direct patient services,” he said. Direct patient services include support groups for cancer patients on college campuses, educational materials, and providing social workers in hospitals where young people battle cancer. “Young adults diagnosed with cancer face unique challenges, and these social workers help them navigate their journey,” Hersey said.
The Ullman Cancer Fund provides free bicycles to all its riders, which they are required to use during the trip and are welcome to keep afterward. Alice received hers in late February and then learned an essential skill—how to ride it.
“I didn’t know how to ride a bike before 4K, but I learned in February!” she laughed. The Ullman Cancer Fund arranged training rides, and Alice went on a 50-mile trip from Baltimore to Union Station in Washington, D.C.
Despite a minor accident that prevented her from training the last few weeks (she fell while making a turn too quickly), she was ready to go when the group left on May 27 from the Inner Harbor in Baltimore.
While both can attest to the physical toll of the trip, they also adore it. The first few days were spent climbing thousands of feet in elevation as they went from Baltimore to Alexandria, Va., and then to Lynchburg, Va.
Alice and Sandi are on “Team San Fran,” while others are on “Team Seattle” or “Team Portland.” Each has around 30 riders and is in reference to the ending locations.
“It’s been awesome. Everyone is very supportive of us and helps keep our morale high. It’s really hard to bike 80 miles and climb mountains without my entire team cheering me on to keep going,” Sandi said.
Each night they convene for a powwow circle and discuss their days. In the morning they get together and dedicate their ride to someone they know—such as an individual they know who is fighting cancer.
In addition to the sense of internal teamwork, they’ve already seen an impact on the larger community. “We met a woman at a gas station who saw us and started tearing up because she had cancer. And she was really happy that we were doing this,” Sandi said.
When asked to describe the trip in three words, Alice replied: “Really, really awesome. And incredible team support.”
For more information, visit the 4K for Cancer website.