UT students biking across America take break in Beaumont

Kristin Stanley, Niket Parikh, Fred Tally-Foos, Arin Madera, and Jose Talavera

For the next three months, three teams of bike riders from the University of Texas are taking their mission on the road, cycling from Austin to Alaska in hopes of raising awareness (and funds) for cancer research and treatment.

Along the way, 22 of the riders made a pit stop in Beaumont to get some much needed R&R, as well as food and water, at the home of Beaumont attorney and philanthropist Hubert Oxford III. Oxford’s daughter, Gabe, is also riding for the cause, taking an alternate route to the northern destination more than 4,000 miles away.

“I want to be a part of the fight against cancer,” Gabe said of her inspiration to join the Texas 4000 crew, “and hopefully riding each mile will give me a chance to raise enough money to make a difference in someone else’s life.”

The Texas 4000 program is a cancer awareness/treatment initiative that carries volunteer bicyclists from the University of Texas at Austin to Alaska. There are three separate routes to get there, and the over-arching message they all deliver at pit-stops and awareness events along the way is clear: “No struggle is insurmountable.” Not traveling 4,000 miles by bike, and certainly not beating cancer.

With the group’s three founding pillars of hope, knowledge and charity, cyclist Imran Zafar said, the group tries to educate the public along the was so that they can “truly understand what the disease looks like.”

Before arriving in Beaumont, the group brought a check to M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston for $150,000.

“We can see the connection between the money and how it will help cure cancer some day,” cyclist Fred Tally-Foos said. “That’s one of the great things about our mission. It isn’t just a hope to see something happen one day; you can really see what’s happening with your money.”

Tally-Foos is part of the 22-rider group traveling through Texas and Louisiana on their route; 41 others are on alternate routes to their destination. Anyone wanting to check on riders like Tally-Foos and Gabe Oxford can do so online, and data on all the cyclists’ progress is posted routinely at Texas4000.org.

Tally-Foos said that his inspiration for riding was his grandmother Jean Tally, who passed away from cancer in Spring 2012. She was, he said, “the best example of a person I can think of.”

“Although she knew — she would have been diagnosed with cancer for some time — before she told us,” Tally-Foos said, “it was very hard for the rest of us.” 

The family found out the matriarch was battling cancer in February of that year; by March she was dead.

“Even then, however, she continued to be the rock of our family,” he said. “She was such an amazing woman.”

Tally-Foos said he has been training since the fall of 2014 to take part in this year’s Texas 4000, when he first applied to be on the team. In fall 2015, the 7 a.m. workouts begin, and the crew now traveling to Alaska got their bikes on Halloween 2015.

“The fitness thing isn’t everything,” he said. “There’s an almost spiritual aspect of it. A lot of feelings going on.”

To prepare, “We had to ride at least 2,000 miles of training,” he said, and each member of the group had to raise funds toward the team goal. This year, the team hopes to raise $825,000. So far, they have raised more than a half-million dollars.

“A lot of it comes from family and friends, panhandling on the street, companies’ donations,” Tally-Foos said. According to him, people are very supportive of the cause.

“Whether it’s $5, $10, $50 or $100,” he said, “all of it goes to beat cancer.” Even on the ride, “it’s amazing what people will give. So far the group hasn’t had to pay for food or housing. Every penny we spend on food doesn’t get to go to cancer research, so we try not to spend anything if we can help it.

“The worst-case scenario, they say no – even then it’s usually with a hug.”

Tally-Foos said he and crew are hoping to get in more donations to reach their goal, and any money that comes in right now has a good chance of being doubled, since the group has a donor who is willing to match funds for anything more than $4,000 from here on out.

“I can tell already it’s making me feel a part of something big,” Tally-Foos said as he enjoyed a brief reprieve from his journey. The group hopes to get to Anchorage, Alaska, by Aug. 12.

“We have a lot more days ahead,” he said. Which is good, he added, since that just gives him more time to raise money and awareness for cancer research and treatment.

To check out the riders’ progress or to donate, visit Texas4000.org.