Cyclists on a cross-state ride to raise funds for Alzheimer's disease research will make their way through Orangeburg on Saturday.
Over 300 riders will participate in this year’s Ride to End ALZ South Carolina. The 255-mile ride will run from Simpsonville to Mt. Pleasant and is sponsored by the South Carolina Chapter of the Alzheimer's Association.
“To me, this ride is pure inspiration,” said Beth Sulkowski, vice president of communications for the S.C. Chapter of the Alzheimer's Association. “I have been supporting this event as a staff member each year from its inception, and it is just amazing to see the dedication and willpower that our riders pour into it.”
So far, riders have raised $600,000 of the event’s $800,000 goal. Donations can be made online at alz.org/ride.
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Each rider is given an individual donation page that can be personalized and linked to their social media.
“Some (riders) come up with individual fundraisers,” Sulkowski said. “For example, one rider is a woodworker and creates a beautiful bowl each year that one of his donors will win in a drawing.”
Riders will make the trip in three stages: Simpsonville to Newberry on the 8th, Newberry to Orangeburg on the 9th and Orangeburg to Mt. Pleasant on the 10th.
Participants will begin early in the morning and will arrive at their destination by 4 p.m. each day. Lunch, dinner and hotel accommodations will be provided for the riders at each stop.
Mechanical and medical assistance will be available throughout the course, as well as rest stops along the route – including one at North Town Hall.
The cyclists will arrive in Orangeburg between 11 a.m. and 4 p.m. Saturday at the Country Inn & Suites on Citadel Road. They will leave for the last leg of the journey at 7 a.m. Sunday.
Riders and volunteers will be treated to lunch at the finish by The Legacy of Orangeburg, Edisto Home Care & Hospice, Major Graphics and Edisto Post Acute Care. Dinner will be held at the First Baptist Church Family Life Center, hosted by Orangeburg's Rotary and Lions clubs.
Other members of the community have stepped up to support the ride, with Orangeburg Coca-Cola Bottling Co. donating drinks. Several teams are locally sponsored.
The event originated as “A Ride to Remember” about 14 years ago. This year will be the first under the national “Ride to End ALZ” banner and will be one of five similar rides across the country, Sulkowski said.
“I have experienced Alzheimer's disease in my own family, and I am passionate about my work,” Sulkowski said. “Ride to End ALZ renews my resolve each year, thanks to the amazing individuals who ride and volunteer -- and the stories of all of their loved ones who have been impacted by Alzheimer's or another dementia.”
A virtual ride option, first offered in 2020 during the pandemic, will again be offered this year. Riders will be challenged to raise money and ride the 252-mile total over the course of the entire month, rather than during the three-day event.
Virtual riders will be able to ride in any location, including on stationary bikes in their homes. Around a quarter of the total riders participating this year will be doing so virtually, Sulkowski said.
Preparing for the ride takes a great deal of training and preparation.
“It's not just a three-day ride,” Sulkowski said. “It takes weeks or months of preparation, miles upon miles of training, and lots of heartfelt fundraising efforts.”
Some riders are participating in just part of the total ride, like Karla Glover, who is joining the group for the Orangeburg-Mt. Pleasant leg of the trip.
This is Glover’s first year participating in the in-person ride after two years of riding virtually. To train, she has been riding through hilly areas of Orangeburg and Calhoun counties in the heat three or four times a week. She has also adjusted her eating and drinking habits.
“If you’re someone who is already physically active, I would say it is definitely doable,” Glover said. “You just have to train.”
Glover is a member of the Orangeburg Cycling Club team. One of her teammates, Marie McLean-Choi, estimated that she and her teammates had ridden 1,000 miles each since they started training in March.
Many riders participate in honor of loved ones affected by the disease. A “Why I Ride Wall” for riders to put up pictures of people they are remembering will be at the start of the ride and will follow the group to each of its stops, including in Orangeburg on Saturday.
Both Glover and McLean-Choi ride in honor of family members having lived with the disease.
“Since I first participated in 2014, I have seen this disease affect so many other families, '' McLean-Choi said. “It just keeps getting worse, and there is no cure. By riding, at least I can help raise money to provide resources to caregivers and funding for research. And hopefully, I can provide some encouragement to those who are facing this illness.”
McLean-Choi encouraged those who wish to participate but are not up to the ride to look into the virtual ride, volunteering or donating.
“There are a lot of ways to get involved, whether you are a cyclist or not,” McLean-Choi said. “We couldn't do this at all without the great team of volunteers that help with rest stops, meals, transport, etc.”
Volunteers can sign up for next year’s ride and other events at https://www.alz.org/sc/volunteer.
Riders will continue to accept donations for the event until July 31, but Sulkowski said donations will stay open until the website is launched for next year’s ride.