Maria Parker Pedaling 3000 Miles To A Cure
By Mary Moscarello
Endurance cyclist, Maria Parker cycled the highest mileage among women competing in this year’s Bike Sebring 24hr race. She covered 410 miles – reinforcing her title as one of the top recumbent cyclists in the United States.
Parker currently holds fourteen different records for speed and endurance even though the very idea of cycling for an entire day without stopping seemed inconceivable to her.
“Years ago, a friend encouraged me to try to qualify for RAAM at Sebring 2012. I smiled and politely agreed, but inside I was thinking no way. Why would anyone want to cycle for 24 hours? I’d done a couple of 12 hour events at that point and felt completely used up by the end of each of them.”
Still, she convinced herself to try it, to go beyond feeling “used up”. Case in point, her 400 mile plus accomplishment during the 2013 Sebring, Florida 24 hour ride. She had an even more impressive mileage total back in October of 2012, when she rode a world record setting 24-hour ride – covering more than 469 miles. Which is why she can call the 410 miles in Florida a “disappointing” ride.
What was the difference between the two rides? How did she do it? Obviously she trained, hard. Going the distance in the weeks leading up to the ride, logging an incredible 800 mile journey in July, then another 750 miles in August along with countless shorter rides. Along the way she practiced her nutrition, worked out wardrobe choices, and evaluated her hydration needs. The dedication, preparation and planning she put into those rides would serve any athlete well – perhaps even make the goal achievable.
Yet Parker had an added reason to get her body and her spirit ready to take on the seemingly impossible. A recent family crisis has sharpened Parker’s determination. That day in October, when she set that world record, she was fiercely committed to do something amazing because of what really was on her mind and in her heart. Her older sister, Jenny Mulligan received a terminal brain cancer diagnosis (Stage IV Glioblastoma Multiforme) a short time before the 24 hour ride – and the shocking, sad news kindled a fire inside her that burns and generates energy to put her cycling skills to the ultimate test.
“At first, my desire to do anything other than spend time with Jenny disappeared. I had no heart to continue with plans for the ride. Soon though, the frustration of not being able to fix this morphed into a craving to get back on the bike.”
With that same spirit and in honor of her sister, Jenny, Parker will attempt to cycle the entire 3000 miles of the Race Across America (RAAM) course this June. A feat in itself, she has also decided use the race as a platform to benefit brain cancer research. With every pedal stroke, Parker is raising money to support the work of a company known as Accelerate Brain Cancer Cure (ABC2). ABC2 was launched by Dan Case, a brain cancer patient himself, as a non-profit organization that partners with leading entrepreneurs, scientists and researchers to find a cure for brain cancer as quickly as possible.
Parker is well aware of the immense challenge the RAAM presents, since in order to finish in time, she’ll have to cycle the equivalent of a 24-hour ride every day for ten days – a thought she struggled with during the most recent Sebring ride. She often relied on her vivid imagination to distract herself from the pain and discomfort.
“I experienced lots of difficult hours as I pedaled around the Sebring race track hour after hour Saturday night and into Sunday morning. How many times did I think to myself ‘you have to do this for 10 days in June?‘ The last 6 hours, from 12:30 am to 6:30 am were extremely difficult, but whenever I would start to feel sorry for myself, I imagine that with each pedal stroke I am grinding up and destroying the cancer cells in my sister’s brain.”
That kind of mental toughness and perseverance will be crucial when Parker mounts her bike for the Race Across America. RAAM is one of the most highly respected endurance sports events in the world and has been called the “world’s toughest sporting event” by Outdoor Magazine. Fifty year old Parker, will have to ride from Oceanside, California through twelve states to Annapolis, Maryland. She’ll climb more than 170,000 vertical feet and ride more than 3,000 miles. Riders must finish in twelve days but they end up covering a course that is 1000 miles longer than the Tour de France and is ridden non-stop, in half the time. Since 1982, only 31 women have finished the race.
"We spend thousands on competition when you factor in travel, hotel, gas, airfare and rental cars. Race Across America will likely cost us about $30,000.”
But Parker is not asking for a dime for herself. All of her efforts to raise money are being promoted through a grassroots social media campaign – a free yet often crowded platform. Still, the team works hard to raise awareness about brain cancer and how a small donation can really add up to change the future for brain cancer patients as quickly as possible.
“If 200,000 people each donate just five dollars – we’ll reach our goal. That’s a small sacrifice that can be huge in terms of adding years to the life of a brain cancer patient. Most people die from the disease about a year after learning they have it. We want to change that.”
There are several ways to donate. Her team is partnering with Chainspirations, a bicycle jewelry company, and Cruzbike a maker and seller of recumbent bikes. Information on how to partner with the family in reaching their fundraising goal can be found on 3000milestoacure.com. Text to donate is also enabled – a $10 donation will be made when you send the word “race” to 20222.