Text and photos by Ted Regencia
HIGHLAND PARK, Ill — Wearing a Team In Training jersey and sporting a helmet in hand, Bryn Lerud steadied herself as she listened to the final instructions for her first charity bike ride. Accompanying her was Andrew, her 23-year-old son, who wore a matching purple, green and white uniform.
The mother-son duo from Elmhurst joined the early morning Blood, Sweat & Tears (BST) ride in Highland Park on Sunday to honor Mike, Bryn’s 17-year-old son and Andrew’s younger brother.
Bryn turned red-faced and misty eyed when she mentioned Mike’s name. Andrew stared blankly while holding back tears.
A senior at York High School, Mike died a week ago. He was buried three days before the charity event.
He succumbed to acute myeloid leukemia complications, after recovering from Hodgkin’s lymphoma, which he was diagnosed with a year ago.
Bryn explained that it was important for her and Andrew to be at the bike ride so fewer families will go through their ordeal.
Standing nearby, John and Joan Kelley of Palatine reached out to the Lerud family, shaking their hands and giving them hugs. The Kelleys were participating on the ride for their son, Will, who was 17 when he died of leukemia in May. His parents pasted a photo of him on the back of their bike jerseys.
Despite the sober introduction to the eighth annual charity ride, there were plenty of cheers as event organizer Tracy Ten Eyck of the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society (LLS) announced that the event had exceeded the $162,000 fundraising target.
So far Team In Training riders, the official team of LLS, has raised over $175,000. The Highland Park BST ride contributed over $50,000 to that amount, according to Ten Eyck.
She said the BST event was also the biggest for the Team In Training riders, 80 of whom participated.
International pro cyclist Robbie Ventura, two-time winner of El Tour de Tucson in Arizona, led the BST ride, which left the Highland Park Metra Station parking lot at 7:17 a.m.
Ventura, a former US Postal-teammate of Tour de France champion Lance Armstrong, rode in tandem with the highest BST fundraiser and contributor, Gerry Gutowski, who raised $3,500.
Robert Poole, another rider and a retired Chicago Police officer, raised $1,200.
Poole, 61, is a first-time charity bike rider. He said his ride was to honor both his late mother Vera, who died of breast cancer seven years ago, and his brother Herbert, who died of leukemia at 3-years-old. He also has several friends battling prostate cancer.
“This is my way of showing support,” Poole said. “This is only the beginning for me.”
While she could not participate in the bike ride itself, Andrea Yarger, a cancer survivor, showed her support by volunteering at the LLS booth. Yarger, who had acute lymphatic leukemia, was accompanied by her daughter, Elaine.
On the next table, Rebecca Froman was busy signing up volunteers for Be The Match, a national registry for bone marrow donors.
“There are people who are fighting cancer who cannot be cured with chemotherapy and radiation alone,” Froman said.
The more marrow matches made through the registry, Froman explained, the more lives can be saved.
Along the bike route, Michele Kwok and Yusuke Yoshiike cheered the participants on. Kwok and Yoshiike are part of the Team In Training runners who will run the Chicago Marathon on Oct. 10. Kwok’s father died of leukemia at 62.
There were several options for all riders: a 5-mile family fun ride, a 20-mile ride, a 45-mile ride, a 62 mile ride and a 100-mile century ride.
This is the second year the event was held in downtown Highland Park and co-sponsored by the Downtown Highland Park Alliance.