Local cyclist continues cancer awareness journey

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Jackie Clark rides into Provo, Idaho, where they stayed with a Mormon church group and students.

By Juanice Gray, jgray@natchitochestimes.com

The Natchitoches Times first brought you the story of 2014 St. Mary’s graduate Jackie Clark in January as she prepared for her cross-country journey. Clark is one of the 75 members of the 2018 Texas 4,000 Cycling Team. Every year Texas 4000 competitively selects University of Texas students for an 18-month program to lead the fight against cancer.

As the journey reached the halfway point, Clark provided updates on their progress. “We are a little over half-way through our journey. We just made it to Canada (day 38 of 70). We made our way across the US through Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Colorado, Utah, Idaho, Wyoming and Montana,” she said. Days are long and exhausting but meeting all kinds of generous people has been uplifting and adventurous. They each have a story to tell.

“The stories of people we interact with keep me motivated. People have lost children, sometimes multiple children, to cancer. Some folks are fighting right now and show us their bald heads and scars. Some are just scared it will come back. These stories are always empowering which keeps us biking throughout our long and exhaustive days.” Clark said the mountains proved to be difficult. Hailing from Louisiana and breathing 90 percent water, Clark quickly learned what anyone who has ever traveled to Colorado knows…there is no air there.

The altitude, combined with their equivalent of a heat wave proved to be a true test for the cyclists. “I affirm that ‘no air’ feeling in Colorado,” Clark said. In spite of those adversities, Clark cited wind as their hardest element to endure. “Our team battled incredibly strong cross winds in Kansas and Idaho, upwards of 25 to 30 miles per hour. However, we camp a lot and mornings are cold and damp each day – I tend to dread taking things down, shivering while dressing and starting biking with cold muscles.”

The elements take a back seat though when they meet the people they pedal to help. “Their stories are indeed so humbling, and draining, when you realize just how lucky you are to have the ability to do the physical task ahead. Some of my teammates who have lost siblings or parents to cancer are reminded of their own personal grief. I admire them a lot for their selflessness and resiliency in these moments,” she said. Clark cited a morning ritual, a ride dedication circle usually joined by their local hosts who share stories about their loved ones, as their motivation.

Physically, the journey is grueling.

“It’s incredible to process how far our pair of legs have taken us – across the entire country and now soon across another one,” she said.

Mentally, emotionally and spiritually, the journey is uplifting. “Overall, we’ve learned just how generous the world we live in is.If people see your passion for something, odds are  they are willing to take the shirt off their back to help you achieve your goals. We are seeing a truer side of humanity in this way.”