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Stories from the Road

100 Miles Conquered

Jeff Ridenour’s cycling journey began nearly two decades ago when he aspired to complete his first 100-mile bike ride. After an unforeseen cancer diagnosis and an unwavering determination to reach this goal, Jeff’s battle brought him across the 100-mile finish line during BellRinger 2023.

5 min read

Nearly two decades ago, Jeff Ridenour sat at a tea stall nestled in the foothills of the Indian Himalayas, crying on the phone with his then-fiancé. After just learning what a “century ride” was less than 24-hours before attempting to complete one with his friend, he tried anyway, curious to see how far his body would take him. He got to mile 90 but couldn’t finish the last 10. From that point on, he’s always wanted to complete a full century ride.

In January of 2023, just across the border from India in Bangladesh, Jeff spoke with similar tears to his now-wife. During an annual checkup, he received test results that showed an abnormally high level of white blood cells. Two months later in March, he was formally diagnosed with Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia at Georgetown University’s Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center and began treatment.

Jeff had always been an avid cyclist. While he never got into road-cycling, he always felt on top of the world (literally) through his journey with off road cycling and mountain biking. After joining the Foreign Service in 2011, he found himself in Chile, where he gradually became interested in mountain biking. From there, he spent three years in Tajikistan, where he took in thousands of miles of mountains and scenic views. His career in the Foreign Service took him to various countries, where little-by-little, he explored more of what life had to offer from behind the handlebars.

While in Bangladesh, Jeff went in for his annual check-up to find out that his white blood cell count was abnormally high, and with a few symptoms that supported this, the embassy doctor knew something was wrong. He then traveled to Singapore, where his biopsy results confirmed the suspicions — Jeff had cancer. He and his family had moved to Bangladesh from their home in Virginia less than a year before his diagnosis, but they returned back home to the life they started there many years sooner than expected.

During one of his many appointments at Georgetown Lombardi, he saw a poster for BellRinger. For him, it was his worlds colliding — a love for cycling and a passion to raise money and awareness for cancer research. When he got home from treatment later that day, there was no hesitation as he decided to take another go at a 100-mile bike ride in the fall.

Jeff’s journey with cancer has been a mix of physical and emotional challenges. From a physical standpoint, his treatments have been targeted for CLL. Jeff shared, “There’s a lot of time I’ve been hospitalized overnight, having to deal with the constant sound of the IV, but I watched lots of Netflix and listened to my audiobooks. While treatment was never pleasant and I wasn’t always at 100% energy, I am thankful that I was able to maintain a fairly normal lifestyle post-treatment. I was even able to commute by bike to several of my infusions. Many therapies for other cancers don’t allow that.”

Despite not being at his full energy levels, Jeff has managed to maintain a relatively normal lifestyle, transitioning from taking time off work during the initial stages of treatment to now returning back to work at full-time employment. Even though his current treatment leaves Jeff sleeping an hour extra each night, he is thankful for how far his body has come.

“I am officially in remission. But it’s still a long road ahead since the cancer isn’t curable yet. It’s kind of like a century ride. Right now, I’m in a downhill spot, I guess you can say.” Jeff shared, though he added when it comes to bike riding, “I’ve always preferred the ups, but that’s the mountain biker in me.” While moving between countries added a level of complexity to this unforeseen diagnosis, he was thankful to have the support of his wife and two children throughout it all. Jeff has raised over $4,000 since registering to ride, all thanks to his supportive friends, family, and colleagues who have played a role in both his cycling and cancer journeys.

BellRinger became a goal for Jeff, a goal he was able to focus on by training and taking time for himself out on the roads of Virginia. He enjoyed having the time to clear his mind from treatment and work through an array of audiobooks and podcasts along the way. From the early stages of his treatment to two weeks before the ride, Jeff increased his weekly rides to 80 miles on his gravel bike. However, with just two weeks remaining, Jeff began having severe muscle cramps and wasn’t able to ride more than 10 miles at a time. He thought he wouldn’t be able to participate, but with treatment and encouragement of his medical team, Jeff decided to try anyway.

20 years ago, a 100-mile bike ride was once a challenge that Jeff thought he couldn’t accomplish. Since then, he’s traveled the world far and wide on two wheels, excited at the opportunity to challenge himself all over again. While his diagnosis has since taken him down roads he’d never thought he’d travel in life, it recently led him to cross the finish line in Urbana, MD on a journey to end cancer. After completing the 100 miles and with tears in his eyes once again, Jeff said, “As I was chatting with fellow survivors on the ride about their journeys, I realized that one of the main reasons I rode was to prove to myself I wouldn’t give up – be it a long bike ride or a long fight against cancer.” He added, “However, it’s not just about one person. It’s all of us – the medical professionals, cancer researchers, those fighting cancer, and those supporting cancer patients. I’m proud to have been a part of BellRinger and plan to do it next year, and I’ll bring along a bigger team!”

November 2, 2023

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