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Hundreds brave inclement weather for LOWVELO 2021, raise money for cancer research at Hollings

large group of riders at start line of Lowvelo21

Hollings director Dr. Raymond N. DuBois leads a group of riders across the starting line at LOWVELO21.

Wrapped up in protective rain gear, around 250 LOWVELO participants braved the cold and winds to show up in person to celebrate LOWVELO21 at the Isle of Palms on Nov. 6. They were all there for a great cause — raising money for lifesaving cancer research at MUSC Hollings Cancer Center.

Riders took the bad weather in stride, accepting that some routes had to be revised for safety reasons, but it didn’t deter the mission. Some were glad they had signed up for the enclosed stationary cycling classes, but others seemed to embrace the challenge of the wind and rain.

“It was cold, and the wind really hit you on the bridge, heading back into Isle of Palms. But what we went through today is nothing compared to what cancer patients and their families go through every day,” said Gerard Silvestri, M.D., a researcher and an MUSC Health lung cancer pulmonologist at Hollings.

This year’s event had a record number of participants — more than 800 — with many doing the virtual Home Team option. Participants have until Dec. 31 to continue to fundraise.

Hollings director Raymond N. DuBois, M.D., Ph.D., was among those who took to the streets Saturday to raise awareness about cancer and raise money for research.

“This type of event really brings the community together because cancer affects everybody in one way or another,” DuBois said. “It is heartwarming to see so many people come out, despite the weather, to show their support for Hollings Cancer Center.”

LOWVELO offers a unique opportunity to bring researchers, physicians, cancer survivors and the community together. For cancer survivor and LOWVELO ambassador David Zaas, M.D., CEO of MUSC Health-Charleston Division, the event was a time of reflection. In 2017, Zaas was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia and given less than a 20% chance of survival. Thanks to treatment afforded through a phase one clinical trial, Zaas said he feels better today than ever before.

“I actually began riding a bike after my bone marrow transplant to exercise and stay in shape during my own cancer journey,” Zaas said. “I hadn’t done that before my diagnosis, so being here for LOWVELO really brings that full circle. I started biking five years ago, and now I get the chance to continue riding to allow, hopefully, other patients to be as fortunate as I was in their own cancer journeys.”

Isle of Palms firefighters ride together across Lowvelo21 finish line

Isle of Palms firefighters finish their ride wearing their fire gear to bring awareness to the impact cancer has on firefighters.

Participants had their own reasons for riding in LOWVELO21 — many shared those reasons on the Why I Ride wall that greeted them at the finish line. For Silvestri, he rode to reduce health disparities in South Carolina, a strategic priority at Hollings.

“I know patients who have made decisions on whether they should get care based on if they had the money to pay for it,” Silvestri said. “In the United States, that is just unacceptable. South Carolina is a rural and medically underserved state. What I hope for, and what I hope an event like this can help with, is to work toward everyone getting equitable cancer care.”

For cancer survivor and LOWVELO participant Bruce Dales, cancer care is what he credits for saving his life after being diagnosed with stage 4 adenoid cystic carcinoma in 2016. He credits head and neck cancer specialists at Hollings for diagnosing, treating and beating his cancer. He rode in LOWVELO to show support for other cancer patients and survivors while also raising money for cancer research so that his kids never go through what he did.

“I had a bit of time to reflect on what I’ve gone through while I was out there riding. I remember what I went through during treatment and what I’ve accomplished since then. It was definitely cold out there, but this event was so worth it. It is something I’ll remember for a long time.”

One of the most moving moments at the event was when members of the Isle of Palms Firefighters Association stopped a mile out to don their fire gear so they could cross the finish line in unison. According to Pete Gray, an eight-year firefighter, cancer is something that is a personal mission for the group, which has participated in LOWVELO every year since it first launched in 2019.

“We thought riding in our gear would catch people’s attention and bring awareness to the fact that cancer is one of the leading causes of death among firefighters,” Gray said. “It also shows the community that we are here to support them in these types of events as well.”

Ja'Net Bishop gives a thumbs up after writing a message on the Why I Ride wall

Ja’Net Bishop rode in a stationary cycling class to honor her mom, Carrie Smalls, who was treated at Hollings for Burkitt’s Lymphoma.

LOWVELO21 was the biggest year yet, with options available for riders of all ages and all skill levels. Ja’Net Bishop, who took advantage of the stationary cycling option, said she was participating to honor her mom, Carrie Smalls, who was treated for Burkitt’s Lymphoma at Hollings in 2009.

“When you are blessed, you have to be a blessing to others,” Bishop said. “The cold, windy and rainy weather made me a little bit nervous, but I knew I had to do this. If it wasn’t for cancer research, my mom may have had a different experience and not be with us today.”

Rachel Haynie, LOWVELO event manager, said the event gives participants time to celebrate advances being made in cancer care as well as honor cancer survivors or the memory of loved ones who battled the disease. She looks forward to welcoming even more participants for LOWVELO22 and thanks all of the sponsors, including presenting sponsor the Beemok Family Foundation and platinum sponsor OneMUSC. This year she also received rave reviews about the volunteers who helped to make this year’s event run so smoothly.

“We are just getting started,” she said. “We had record participation in LOWVELO this year, which is great. We are already brainstorming and coming up with new ideas of how to make LOWVELO22 the biggest, and best, event yet.”

Haynie also thanked Hollings researchers who showed up in force wearing their “Ask Me About My Research” shirts to encourage participants to learn about the projects already underway at Hollings. “This allowed participants to understand the incredible work being done at Hollings every day,” Haynie said. “It really hits home at an event like this because it allows riders to see what their fundraising helps to support.”

group of people stand together in front of Why I Ride wall

Hollings researcher Dr. Evan Graboyes and three Isle of Palms firefighters after finishing their ride.

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