This August and September, GLY cycling teams are participating in two signature bike ride events in support of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center and the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. Because many of us have a personal connection to cancer and multiple sclerosis, we’re riding proud and fierce to help raise funds for cures. To kick off our training efforts with some extra inspiration, we asked Principal Bill DeJarlais to share what cycling means to him.
WHY I RIDE
On my 12th birthday, my dad gave me my first full-fledged road bike: a steel Schwinn World Sport in Royal Maroon. It was a sunny day in June, and he asked me to help him with something in the backyard. There it was, sitting proudly on its kickstand, sunlight glistening on a big yellow bow tied around the saddle. I remember that moment as if it were yesterday.
I rode that bike everywhere. It took me on countless adventures with my friends through junior high and high school. Sometimes I rode as many as 25 miles to visit my grandma in Lake Tapps, which required quite a hill climb out of the Sumner valley. I dreamed I might one day compete in the famed Tour de France. Heck—Greg LeMond, the American cyclist, was winning it!
I drew airplanes incessantly as a kid. I also built countless plastic and balsa wood airplane models and imagined what it would be like to fly in them. As a senior in high school, contemplating college, I thought about pursuing aeronautical engineering. Naturally, as a graduation gift, Mom gave me a gift certificate for flying lessons to become a pilot; however, Dad was adverse to the risk and made me cash in that golden ticket. Momentarily crushed, I turned my attention to my other passion and used the cash to buy what was, at the time, the best Cannondale aluminum-framed mountain bike on the market. Purchased at 18 years young, I rode that bike until I was 27.
The summer before college, Dad’s side of the family threw a graduation party for me at my Uncle Tim’s. Uncle Tim was a favorite—outgoing, handsome, strong, and known for his unmistakable high-pitched giggle. The two of us loved to rough house. Goofing around on his deck that day, he picked me up from behind and I smashed my big toe on his deck, splitting the nail right down the middle. Both winded, we laughed, but he seemed unusually worn down. I remember him saying he felt a bit sick—something to do with his lungs.
Dad and Uncle Tim helped me move to college that fall. They packed me, the Cannondale bike, and a few other belongings into the back of a pickup truck, and dropped me off at the University of Washington. Just a few months later, Tim—barely over 30 years old—was diagnosed with cancer. Mom refrained from breaking the news to me until I completed fall finals, knowing it would distract me beyond belief.
That spring, I rode my Cannondale bike at least once a week to Virginia Mason hospital in downtown Seattle, where Tim resided during treatment. By the time doctors discovered the cancer, it had already spread throughout his body. I sat in his hospital room and talked for as long as he could as he was in terrible discomfort. When I returned to college in the fall, he was home with hospice care. It was crazy to think just a year earlier we were happily rough housing. He passed away that December, just as the last bit of the crack in my toenail had grown out.
This was a terrible loss for our entire family. He was adored by so many and left us way too soon. I am still sad writing about it today. That Cannondale bike became a symbolic reminder of those early days of his illness, and some quality time well spent—one of the many reasons I held onto it for so long.
Bicycles give us freedom as kids, inspire us to be healthy, help us explore our surroundings, and most importantly, bring us together as family, friends, and community. Some of my best memories, and certainly many of my closest and best friends, all revolve around cycling. In the Pacific Northwest, we’re not only blessed by wonderful roads and glorious natural scenery, but also the strength of our cycling community to come together in mass, riding to support important causes.
When I participate in these rides, I know I’m far from alone when it comes to experiencing the challenges of a friend or family member experiencing a life altering disease. Fortunately, we have many wonderful people in the world working to find cures—and they need our support!
GLY is proud to once again support these two incredible organizations and their missions to better the health of so many lives: Fred Hutch’s Obliteride on August 10 and 11, and Multiple Sclerosis Society’s Bike MS: Deception Pass Classic on September 8 and 9. GLY’s goal is to raise a combined total of over $65,000 for these events, with more than 50 participants between our two teams.
Stay tuned for more info on an exciting fundraising event at one of Seattle’s breweries—all are welcome!