Texas 4000 completes annual bike ride virtually due to COVID-19

Hannah Ortega

After completing an 18-month training program, 78 bicyclists with Texas 4000, a UT organization that raises money and awareness for cancer, were supposed to set out on a 4,000-mile-long journey this summer from Austin, Texas, to Anchorage, Alaska. They planned to ride for 70 days and pass through cities like Colorado Springs or Seattle depending on the route. 

However, the COVID-19 pandemic threw the riders’ plans off course — they could no longer participate in the cross-country ride. But, instead of canceling the event, Scott Crews, Texas 4000 executive director, decided to make the trek virtual. 

“The decision-making process was really focused on the health and safety of not only our riders, but all of the people that we would come in contact with,” Crews said. “With the outbreak of COVID-19 in the country, our focus was always on, 'What are we going to be able to do best to protect both parties: the riders and those other folks?'”

From May 29 to June 26, the Texas 4000 riders broadcast their cycling from home live on Facebook and YouTube. The broadcasts included ride dedications, which took place before every ride started, an hour of live cycling and cancer-related presentations.

“We always started out with ride dedications, and we actually got to bring those to the community level like they hadn't been before,” said Ally McConnell, a 2020 UT graduate and Texas 4000 rider. “We would be livestreaming and people could comment, and we could read the ride dedications as they happened, which I thought was really, really special.”

Crews said riders reached a wide audience through the online broadcasts, and that Texas 4000 may continue with similar broadcasts in the future.

“I think (what) really struck everyone is just how many more people we're able to touch in the virtual environment,” Crews said. “We've had people from across the world. … It's been heartening to know, for the riders, how many more people they've been able to touch and share our mission and share our pillars of hope, knowledge and charity with.”

Rachel Ogle, a 2020 UT graduate and Texas 4000 rider, was disappointed when she heard the ride would be virtual, but after speaking with hosts and hospitals about the organization’s impact, she said it became a rewarding experience.

“I left every one of those calls almost in tears,” Ogle said. “You hear stories (and) that's why you continue to keep doing it because everybody's lives have been touched by cancer, and … to hear their experiences with Texas 4000 …  it's just humbling to realize how big it is beyond us. I'm very grateful to have gotten the opportunity to do anything because it could have just been canceled.”

Crews said during the COVID-19 pandemic, cancer is still affecting many people, and this year’s riders recognized they needed to pedal on.

“(The riders) realize they didn't join this organization just for the ride to Alaska,” Crews said. “They joined it to fight cancer, and that hasn't stopped. That's really I think the rallying cry for their team is that people need us and people need to know that there are people still out there fighting for them.”