From Texas to Alaska: UT students bike to raise money for cancer


Sarah Brager, Life&Arts Reporter

After pedaling across the finish line as loved ones cheer from the sidelines, cyclists huddle together yelling their team chant one last time. Adrenaline from the final stretch on the road subsides, and reality sinks in for the riders: They just finished biking from Texas to Alaska.

“We (biked) through all sorts of places and met all sorts of people, and each of them showered us with love, kindness, gratitude and support,” public health senior Rahul Nanduri said. “Now, I don’t think of people I haven’t talked to as strangers; I think of them as connections I haven’t made yet.”

The Texas 4000 team of UT students, many of whom have personal connections to the fight against cancer, biked over 4,000 miles from Austin to Anchorage, Alaska this summer to raise money for cancer research and support programs. According to Nanduri, the team raised over $300,000 before the 70-day journey across the country and stopped in different communities across the U.S. to spread information about resources.

It’s supposed to be hard. It’s powerful because it’s hard.

— Rahul Nanduri

Split into two groups of 24 riders — the Sierra route and the Ozarks route — the team departed from campus on their bikes on June 3 and finished in Anchorage on August 12. While challenging the team’s stamina and patience, Nanduri said the hard moments brought the team closer together and reminded them of their mission: to spread hope, knowledge and charity.

“Half the reason why the ride was so powerful was because of the teammates that I rode with,” Nanduri said. “I learned so much from each person, and I developed so much love for every single member. Regardless of where we’ll be in the world, we’ll always be connected by the fact that we did this crazy thing together.”

Riders spent 18 months preparing for their summer trek with physical training, route planning and fundraising a minimum of $4,500 per rider. The Texas 4000 grants committee will decide where to donate the team’s combined funds. Past recipients included Anchorage Young Cancer Coalition, Brent’s Place and MD Anderson Cancer Center.

“To devote myself to something like this felt like such a little task in comparison to people who are actually suffering from cancer or who might be supporting someone through cancer,” said Audrey DeJong, programs coordinator and chemistry junior. “(The ride) felt like this little thing that I might be able to contribute to in this larger realm of cancer.”

In addition to fundraising, Vinay Shah, a management information systems senior, said connecting with rural communities was especially important because they traditionally lack information about cancer resources. What many of the riders weren’t expecting during this process, Shah said, was the vulnerability and connection they exchanged with people along the way.

“A lot of people say the summer ride restores their faith in humanity because people are so generous,” Shah said. “They see what we’re doing and are willing to donate. … (They) let us know that what we’re doing makes them really happy. It helps them realize they’re not alone in what they’re dealing with.”

Many riders like Nanduri say the journey changed their perspective on what they can accomplish, and the relationships between fellow riders and locals along the route will stick with them forever. 

“I don’t think any one of us could have done this individually,” Nanduri said. “We really did lean on each other as a team, and there were days when some people were having a bad day, and (my teammates) would say, ‘It’s supposed to be hard. It’s powerful because it’s hard.’ That became a mantra for me.”