CRESTVIEW — Joshua Valdivia-McDonald began raising funds for cancer patients two years ago in the 4k For Cancer bike ride program sponsored by The Ulman Cancer Fund for Young Adults.
The 25-year-old took a cue from his sister, an aspiring brain surgeon who completed the 2011 San Francisco ride while studying neuroscience at John Hopkins University in Baltimore, Md., where the fund is based.
“Hopefully, I can inspire some people in this area to do something larger than life,” said Valdivia-McDonald, a 2010 Crestview High School graduate who raised over $10,000 for UCF in the summer ride programs of 2015 and 2016. “I think the earlier you can help other people, the better off you are, and to get involved in charitable actions at an earlier age, that way you can get involved early, and stay involved for years to come.”
The UCF is one of a few non-profit organizations dedicated to raising money for young adults who have cancer, and the program limits participating bicyclists to the ages of 18 to 25.
“It’s a forgotten age, you know, because there are a lot of funds for children with cancer and adults with cancer, but there is this middle ground that is forgotten,” he said.
In addition, participants must raise at least $4,500 to bike the 4,000-mile cross-country routes, with bicyclists often traveling a total of 70 days. This year, the 4k for Life program is offering three cross-country bike tours in Seattle, Portland and San Francisco, and not only do participants bike, but they also make stops along the route to volunteer for cancer patients.
“During the ride we would help out at cancer centers and talk to patients going through radiation and I became extremely connected with their stories as well as the communities we went to along the way; we touched over 60 communities across the United States,” Valdivia-McDonald said. “And every community had connections to cancer. I fell in love with helping those who are going through those times and the patients going through chemo.”
On the third day of his first ride, Valdivia-McDonald was in Charlottesville, Va., at the University of Virginia Cancer Center when he met Sharon Kohler, a cancer patient whose story resonates with him to this day.
“She had been a teacher and also played the banjo, which was pretty neat,” he said. “And even though she was dying — completely bald — she had such a positive attitude that I became connected because of her.”
And now that he’s too old to participate in the 4k for Cancer program, Valdivia-McDonald is raising funds to bicycle for Pelotonia, a 180-mile charity bicycle ride taking place from Aug. 5-6 in Columbus, Ohio.
“It’s a ride, not a race,” he said philosophically. “This isn’t a racing mentality, it’s a tour, and it gives it a different connotation in the bicycling community. We would ride from city to city and experience each along the way and stop at gas stations and communities and talk to people, and a race gives it a ‘got to get there mentality.’”