When Teri Griege’s husband, Dave, first asked her to assemble a team for a new charity bike ride a family friend was organizing in St. Louis, her reaction was less than promising.
“I thought, ‘There is no way. I’m not a volunteer type,’” Teri said.
The friend was Bill Komen, a two-time lymphoma survivor and a former high school classmate of Dave’s brother. The families had a long history, so when Komen asked Dave to help out with his new mission, Pedal the Cause, a group bike ride to raise funds for cancer research, Dave turned around and recruited his wife.
“I am not the type of person that does this kind of stuff. I thought, ‘I’m not going to do this!’” Teri paused with equal parts irony and resignation, a pot calling the kettle black through the filter of hindsight. “But you know how Dave is.”
Teri was a logical recruit. Just a few years before, she had made a dubious debut in triathlon (she wore baggy shorts and rode her son’s hybrid bike) before advancing to longer distances and a snappier bike in short order. Teri was now an Ironman. She was plugged into the cycling community. She knew people.
She also knew cancer.
In the fall of 2009, two weeks after completing Ironman Louisville, her second full Ironman, Teri was diagnosed with stage IV colon cancer with metastasis to her liver. She underwent colon resection surgery and had over half her liver removed. She also began extensive radiation and chemotherapy.
One year later, she was still receiving chemo, but she was also still training. Pedal the Cause united the two foremost motifs in her life at that moment. The ride itself and the reason behind it resonated on a deeply personal level.
Doubtful but game, Teri began reaching out to potential riders in an uncomplicated conscription process — a handful of phone calls and emails to family, close friends and a few training buddies. Whether they were cyclists or not was immaterial.
Her campaign worked. The Paramount Pedalers, named after Dave’s company, swelled to 25 members and raised over $22,000. Teri herself raised $6,000.
Teri didn’t know then, back in 2010, that eight years later she and her team would surpass $1 million in lifetime fundraising. She didn’t know that only Edward Jones, the presenting sponsor, would raise more money for Pedal the Cause than the team she planted from the little desk in her kitchen, or that the Paramount Pedalers would evolve into Team Powered By Hope, a wheeled militia nearly 200 riders strong.
This was Teri’s rookie campaign, her baggy shorts attempt. But like the inauspicious start to her triathlon career that eventually led her to compete in Ironman races, her maiden voyage for Pedal the Cause would prove to be a catalyst in her becoming a materfamilias in the organization.
Earlier this spring, Eleanor Goedeke, director of communications at Pedal the Cause, sat on a couch in a common area in the building where the non-profit’s office is located on Spruce, a ground ball away from Busch Stadium, and not a very hard hit one at that.
The Pedal the Cause office is small. The ceilings are high, which gives a loftiness to the space despite its being tight, and the furniture is utilitarian and generally covered in stacks of papers and the occasional water bottle and coffee mug. What the office lacks in ornament is more than made up for with an electric atmosphere. The staff — all seven of them — are personal and energetic, smiley with buy-in and intimately familiar with the minutiae of daily operations. The vibe is suggestive of a Palo Alto start-up, only a non-profit version, smackdab in downtown St. Louis.
Pedal the Cause is as grassroots as it gets, which makes the nearly $20 million it has donated to Siteman Cancer Center and Siteman Kids since its inception in 2010 nothing short of a homegrown phenomenon.
“When we fund a project, we like to think of ourselves as the venture capitalists of cancer research,” Goedeke explained. “We fund ideas, whether it’s a new researcher who has never had funding before or a seasoned researcher who needs to prove an idea.
“We fund those ideas with a small seed grant that a researcher is able to apply for proof of concept. That’s how we can say that when you donate to Pedal the Cause, within five years, $1 will become $7, because of further grants that they were able to prove through the smaller Pedal the Cause grants.”
And because sponsors offset 100 percent of Pedal the Cause’s event costs and administrative fees, 100 percent of the funds raised by riders, teams and volunteers goes to cancer research for both adult and pediatric projects. To date, Pedal the Cause had funded over 101 innovative cancer research projects.
One of most cherished aspects of Pedal the Cause, Ride for a Child, pairs pediatric cancer patients at Siteman Kids at St. Louis Children’s Hospital a team. Originally, each team would ride for a new child every year. Team Powered By Hope rode for a young boy named Lucas the first year. But his cancer was aggressive and advanced, and he lost his battle several months later. The following year, they rode for Kaitlyn, who was diagnosed with stage III lymphoma when she was 8 years old. They rode for her again the next year, along with a new child, DJ. They have since added Peyton, Allison and Luca into the fold.
“We were the first team not to give up our kids,” Teri said. “We would keep our kids and add another kid the next year. That was the first year [Pedal the Cause] encouraged other teams to do the same thing. They said, ‘That’s gonna be the way of the future now.’ It’s a lifelong thing that ties back into the family. Once you join the team, you’re in the family. That’s kind of it. We’re not giving up on you.”
“Teri has really been a leader in thought and action,” Goedeke said. “She comes up with an idea, and it becomes standard practice. She’s the one who coined the term ‘Pedal family,’ and it’s appropriate, because she is a leader in the Pedal family.”
Jack Hornberger, Pedal the Cause’s seemingly inexhaustible CEO, sat down on the couch next to Goedeke.
“As a team captain, she’s always plugged in. She always knows what’s going on. It’s easy to forget that she’s a [cancer] fighter,” Hornberger said. “She’s actively fighting, yet she’s energetic and strong and always has the drive to go the extra mile.”
For Teri, Pedal the Cause is both a celebration and a time for remembrance. In April 2017, Team Powered By Hope lost one of its most devoted members, Geoff Wolf.
“Geoff would always wear these crazy outfits at Pedal and Ironmans,” Teri said, “and he always had this anonymous donor. The first year, he wore a pink tutu for a $2,200 donation. He wore a tuxedo one year for a $7,500 donation. The next year he went as a horse jockey.
“He was such a cheerleader for us,” her voice caught as she spoke. “I had the opportunity to meet the anonymous donor, and I challenged the guy, ‘What would you give me for every person I get to wear a pink tutu to remember Geoff and help this great cause?’”
The donor made a deal: If Teri could convince 100 people to wear pink tutus, he would donate $50,000.
The number of tutus on Team Powered By Hope eclipsed 150.
“If I had had 300 tutus, I could have put them on people,” Teri said through tears. “We gathered for a team picture, and Geoff’s family presented the team with a $50,000 check.”
The tutus highlighted another one of Teri’s messages: Pedal the Cause is not a bike race, it’s a bike ride.
In addition to six courses ranging from 10 to 100 miles in length, there is a spin tent for those who prefer spinning, a virtual rider option for people who don’t want to ride at all and a kids’ fun ride. There are also donation and volunteer options.
“We’re all affected by cancer,” Teri said. “Of course it’s about raising money for cancer research, but it’s also about giving your time and finding other people in the same predicament. The more people who are rowing the boat, the easier it is on everybody else.
“You just kind of get thrown into [cancer], and there’s no turning back,” she said. “It becomes your family — the Pedal family, the whole family itself, the idea of belonging to something bigger than you. We really make a difference. We really can raise money for research that’s going to change the course of people’s lives.” Teri was silent for a moment. “It’s just unbelievable.”
Author: Amy L. Marxkors is the author of two books on endurance sports and a frequent contributor to running blogs and magazines. She has run a mess of half marathons, marathons and 50Ks, even though she swore she would never be a distance runner. Yet here she is, and she couldn’t be more thrilled.