Today is Day 1 (also known as the ATLAS ride) of the Texas 4000 for Cancer ride. This year’s team of University of Texas at Austin students are beginning the journey to ride their bicycles over 4,500 miles to spread hope, knowledge, and charity in the fight against cancer. They begin their arduous ride from Austin, Texas, and end up in Anchorage, Alaska—all riding to fight cancer every mile. This amazing group of 20-somethings are all giving up their summers for a chance to fundraise for MD Anderson, LIVESTRONG, and research endeavors at UT Austin.
As someone who completed this ride with Texas 4000 for Cancer in 2009, I couldn’t be prouder. And as someone with deep ties to how and why this organization was initially founded, I can’t think of a better person today to climb Kilimanjaro for than Chris Condit.
Chris Condit was not even a teenager when he was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. He ended up beating the disease, but was inspired to do something more when he thought about all the people that weren’t so lucky. Years later, as a student at the University of Texas at Austin, he decided to start a non-profit organization of fun-loving, bicycle-riding kids that would hop on their bikes every day over the course of the summer from Texas to Alaska to fight cancer. He had been inspired by the great things that Lance Armstrong had done with LIVESTRONG. He wrote, “I founded Texas 4000 for Cancer to make a difference in the lives of those who struggle with this terrible disease by raising money for cancer research; to provide hope to those people and their families by showing them that there is life after cancer; to educate communities across the continent about how they can detect and prevent cancer.”
In the beginnings of the ride in the summer of 2004, the group made cold calls to various churches, families, and groups with which they could stay along the long route, often the day before they were due to arrive in a completely unknown territory. And somehow they not only made it, but inspired year after year of students to complete the longest annual charity ride in the world.
Chris is an amazingly humble guy, but most importantly: he’s a survivor. He knows what tough circumstances truly are, and he inspires others to dig deeper than they’ve ever known to get through hard times. The organization that he founded has grown exponentially over the past eight years, but at its heart, it’s a grassroots effort. It’s still a bunch of a kids who slap together peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for each other every 20 miles, and who
think no, know they can do their part to actually help change the world.
I’ll never forget the day I interviewed for Texas 4000. I walked into the room on campus in the RLM building in the fall of 2008. That day, I met Chris and his larger-than-life attitude. I told him all about why I wanted to ride; my grandmother had lost her fight against breast cancer less than a year before; my uncle had passed away from cancer right after I was born and I was sad I had never had a chance to know him; and I knew that I wanted to prove that all 5 foot 1, 100 pounds of me could take on a 4,500 mile bike ride for the right reasons.
Chris gave me the opportunity to be a part of an incredible organization, as well as an amazing journey in which I was truly able to grow as a human being. I went from being a carefree 24 year old kid who hadn’t quite understood struggle, to being a very compassionate adult who was able to see positives in life thanks to my teammates, and the people I met along the route. That sentiment was echoed in August of 2009, the morning our team made it to Anchorage, Alaska. One of my teammates, who had lost an immediate family member to cancer, thanked Chris in our ride dedication circle that day. As we stood in the ride dedication circle in Sutton, Alaska, she looked at him with tears in her eyes and told him about how depressed she had been after the loss of her family member—how she didn’t know what to do with her life, and had struggled to move forward. But because of her involvement with the organization, and the 4,500 mile journey, she was in a much better place. She told him: “I needed this. I needed this so badly.” She conveyed what all of us then knew after that ride; we were changed, for the better. We had done something practically impossible; had bonded over a common goal; had taken time to slow down and appreciate the silliness, beauty, and happiness that life reveals to us along the way; and at the same, we had realized the things that were important in life—things like kindness, friendship, compassion, and selflessness. Chris’ organization had ensured that we were never, ever going to forget any of it.
Today I climb for one of the greatest survivors I know, who helped shape me into the person I am today. As we volunteer and ride in Day 1, which has since turned into the ATLAS ride, I understand it started as something much smaller and simpler, but with no less ambition of crushing cancer. Today, I climb Kilimanjaro for the Texas 4000 for Cancer organization, and for Chris Condit.
Much T4K love to all the Texas 4000 riders out there—past, present, and future.