UT students from Fort Bend biking to Alaska

Students raising funds through 4,500-mile ride

By Theresa D. McClellan

For the Fort Bend Star

What does it take to climb onto a bike knowing there are 70 days and 4,500 miles ahead of you before you reach your destination?

How do you prepare yourself mentally and physically to ride in rain, cold and heat; depending on the kindness of strangers for shelter all while keeping your focus on the cause?

Feeling energized, University of Texas seniors Amar Sheth, left and Chris Hamborsky, have high hopes for their Austin to Alaska cross country biking journey to raise money to fight cancer. (Submitted photo)

What would you do if you lost a loved one to cancer? What would you do if you’ve never lost anyone to cancer but you care about those individual stories of loss and survival and want to make a difference?

For 73 University of Texas college students in Austin, they apply for Texas 4000, the longest annual charity bike ride in the world. The competitive application-style 18-month program brings students together to prepare them to bike from Austin, Texas, to Anchorage, Alaska.

It’s quite a feat.

For these students, however, it’s not just about the physical challenge. They want to make a difference, so they each must raise at least $4,500 – about a dollar a mile – for continued cancer research and to fund cancer support services.

In addition to continuing their college courses, they have to complete 50 hours of volunteer service, reach 2,000 miles of training, fundraise and plan the trip as the organization prepares participants to become leaders and future philanthropists. During the rides, they will stop off in towns along the way offering programs on cancer prevention and cancer awareness.

This year, three Fort Bend County high school graduates, who are now University of Texas seniors, raised funds for the journey, which begins June 2. Their reasons for the ride vary from being personally touched by cancer to wanting to be a part of something hopeful.

The riders are Chris Hamborsky, 22, of Missouri City and Amar Sheth, 22, of Sugar Land. The third student, Sarah Qureshy of the Lamar Consolidated ISD, raised more than $3,000 but had to drop out to help her father who is battling Hodgkins Lymphoma. She graduates in May in pre-med and will spend the year doing lab research to help her family.

To prepare, the students start off training with 20-mile weekend rides. Now they are up to 100-mile rides on Saturdays as they will average about 90 miles per day, leaving from three different routes in Austin. Each weekend, they learn of another rider’s story.

Hamborsky is inspired by his mother and sister – strong women who have supported and encouraged him throughout his life, he said. They have not been hit by cancer, but Hamborsky said he understands loss since divorce left him without a father in the home.

“Although I have not had to face the harsh reality of losing a loved one to cancer, I do understand loss. When I was 11 years old, my father ceased to be a part of my life. I spent many years feeling anger and resentment, and I still grapple with the impact of his absence,” he said. “Through this experience I began to understand what it means to lose someone. When I think of the countless people who have lost family and friends to cancer, I reflect on how meaningful and fulfilling those relationships must have been. I think about the lost potential … all the future moments that won’t be enjoyed between two friends or a mother and daughter because cancer cut their time short.

“To me, it seems to be another form of needless pain and suffering. There are far too many stories of loss associated with cancer and I want to do my part to prevent more stories from being written,” Hamborsky said.

He will draw on his mother’s strength when the days are challenging and he finds himself wanting to give up.

“This ride isn’t about who can bike the fastest or your individual journey. It’s about what you can do for people, recognizing that people are different and in order to make this happen, we need each other,” he said.

Hamborsky graduated in 2013 from Ridge Point High School and joined the University of Texas as a government major because of his interest in making a positive change politics. While in school a friend suggested he take a black studies course and it was life changing.

“They don’t talk much about issues of race, gender and class when talking about American politics so I decided to supplement my education. I was taking a lot of classes that were not my background. I wanted to be around people different than I was. It made me realize how you sort of internalize bad or problematic ideas growing up, but there is wisdom in people from all over. Just listening gave me more of a critical perspective in seeing how things affect different people,” he said.

He majored in government and African Diaspora studies and wants to pursue positive change through law and education.

For Sheth, who attended Hightower High School and graduated from Austin High School, biking 4,500 miles is yet one more way for him to connect with others and make a difference. A California native, Sheth spent three years in ancestral India with his family before moving with them to Sugar Land in the fifth grade where he was a shy and self-conscious child. But his pharmacist father, who was raising him in a single-family home, encouraged him with social activities at the YMCA. Eventually another Indian family moved into the neighborhood and Sheth acquired a second family, becoming best friends with the outgoing siblings. He learned through hushed whispers when cancer attacked the home of the matriarch of his best friend’s family. He said the Indian culture of privacy prevented them from being an emotional support to the family. Later, his own grandmother would battle with breast cancer.

“I truly believe that what Texas4000 does as an organization goes beyond just philanthropy. I urge you to help me ride to Alaska, through which I will help build a community along the way bigger than my Texas4000 team, pervading college campuses, crossing borders and boundaries, and helping each other grow in a positive direction. In the future, I really hope that cancer will no longer be the taboo topic in Indian culture it is today,” Sheth said.

The money raised is issued as grants to organizations such as M.D. Anderson Cancer Research Center, the biomedical engineering department at the University of Texas and Southwestern Hospital at the University of Texas. The money also goes toward cancer support services such as the American Cancer Society, the Livestrong Foundation, Brent’s Place and Young Adults Cancer Canada.

To support the riders or read their stories, go www.texas4000.org/riders.

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