The Cancer Center at Illinois (CCIL) welcomed the Illini 4000 to Urbana on June 12. CCIL researchers and staff members, family and friends, cancer advocates, and the Prairie Dragon Paddlers celebrated the riders as they arrived at the Beckman Institute after spending 1,000 miles on the road biking from New York.

The Illini 4000 is a non-profit organization founded in 2006 that is dedicated to spreading awareness for the fight against cancer and raising funds for cancer research and patient support. The 2024 Bike America riders left New York on May 27, and their 4,000-mile journey across the United States will end in San Francisco in early August. This year’s team consists of 18 riders of all levels of biking experience and their own personal motivation for taking part in the long – and often grueling – bike ride.

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Tommy Gulumian, a rising senior in history and secondary education said, “When I first heard about the Illini 4000 and its cause, I realized it was a once in a lifetime experience. I recently had friends and family experience cancer scares. That has been a big motivator for me and something that I keep with me on the bike.”

Rising aerospace engineering sophomore Neal Linden is new to biking and summarized the first part of the trip. “Very hectic, very crazy, super fun, and a lot of hard work. It is difficult to remember every day because so much happens– I have already crashed twice. There has been a lot of cancer in my family, and my childhood best friend lost his mom to cancer when we were about seven years old. So even though the ride can be challenging, it means a lot to be doing this for her.”

A central part of the Illini 4000 is The Portraits Project, an on-going project since 2007 to document the American cancer experience. “On the route, we meet people who have been affected by cancer to learn about their experience; whether they are a cancer patient, survivor, caregiver, or someone who has lost a loved one to cancer,” says Kevin Murphy, a rising senior in history and political science. “One of the best parts of the trip has been seeing the smiles on their faces when they learn about what we are doing and why we are doing it. It’s really powerful to be able to hear and share their stories, and it keeps us motivated to keep biking.”

The CCIL has been a proud supporter of the Illini 4000 since the institute’s inception, and a portion of the team’s fundraising total is donated to CCIL efforts. This year’s team has already raised $55,873. As the team departs Urbana and heads west for another two months, you can follow along, cheer the riders on, and donate to support cancer research and patients by visiting the Illini 4000 website and Instagram.

Editor’s notes:

This story was written by Katie Brady, CCIL Communications Intern