Across the country for a cause



Junior accounting major Heather Willard will bike accross country from June 1 to August 9, in the Ulman Cancer Fund for Young Adults 4k for Cancer event. Riders will take part in community service projects along the way, pedaling up to 114 miles on some days.

Erin Zaranec

Imagine biking anywhere from 60 to 114 miles a day. Pedaling across the country for 70 consecutive days, participating in community service projects along the way.

This thought will be a reality for Kent State junior accounting major Heather Willard this summer. Willard will be participating in the Ulman Cancer Fund for Young Adults 4k for Cancer event from June 1 to August 9.

Willard discovered the event a few years ago, when she attended Niagara Falls University in New York. “I had I friend who participated in the event and I followed along with his ride through Facebook and just thought it was super cool,” Willard said.

While she didn’t consider participating at the time, she thought about the event this October and decided to apply online. Although Willard says she is excited for the event to start, she has never participated in an event anywhere near 4,000 kilometers. “The most I have ever done is ran a 5K, which obviously isn’t even comparable to this,” Willard said.

Willard is a perfect fit to ride in the 4k. According to the Ulman Fund’s 4 for Cancer website, they look for riders ages 18 to 25 who have a connection to the cancer community. Willard will turn 21 on the final day of the race.

Each day, riders wake up at 5 a.m. and share whom that day’s ride is dedicated to. The riders all get in a circle and tell each other what the day’s ride means to them and who they are riding for within the cancer community.

Willard is dedicating her rides to three important people in her life, her grandparents and her mother. on Vimeo. Video by Brian Smith.

Willard’s mother lost both of her parents to cancer when Willard was very young. While she is dedicating rides to her grandparents, her mom is her main motivation for completing the event. “I know how hard it was for her to lose her parents at such a young age. I can’t even imagine because I turn to my mom for every piece of advice I need. It’s just for her because I can always tell her how much I care, but now I can finally show it,” Willard said.

Each rider is also in charge of fundraising prior to the event to raise money for cancer research and the cancer community. According to the 4k for Cancer website, each rider is responsible for raising $4,500 in eight months. This money is distributed in a variety of ways, including awarding scholarships to college students impacted by cancer and aiding over 600 cancer patients each year. None of the money raised benefits the rider or any participants of the event.

Along with fundraising, each rider is encouraged to train heavily before participating in the event.

Due to the winter weather, Willard’s training has not been able to take place outdoors. Instead, she takes advantage of Kent State’s Recreation Center. Each day Willard bikes between 20 and 30 miles on a stationary bike. The Ulman Fund recommends bikers are able to consecutively ride at least 60 miles a day before leaving for the race.

Once the winter weather comes to an end, Willard has another task on her hands: building a bike. “Each bike ridden for the event is donated. It’s a beautiful, brand new bike and I get to keep it after completing the event,” Willard said. The bikes are designed for extensive riding and have clip-in-shoes for each rider to endure the large trips each day.

During the trip, riders spend the night at host locations, such as churches and community centers. According to the website, a hot dinner is provided by each host location. This is the only hot meal of the day for the riders. Breakfast usually consists of bagels and breakfast bars and lunch is usually eaten at a water stop on the side of a road.

Friends and families of riders will be given mailing addresses to send riders packages and mail throughout their trip. Cell phone reception is available during most of the routes and Wi-Fi is available at most host centers. The Ulman Fund states on their website that the event will be emotionally and physically demanding on each rider. Participating in the 4K is no easy task.

Although Willard knows that the trip is going to be difficult, she is more than willing to participate. “It’s just selfless to do, it’s almost easy to do because of the cause,” Willard said.

Contact Erin Zaranec at [email protected]