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Parker's Warrior: Local man rides in LOWVELO23 in memory of his 11-year-old niece

|   April 27, 2023

He made a promise to his niece. Michael Mansson was going to ride 100 miles in LOWVELO and nothing was going to keep him from fulfilling that promise ­­– not the illness that landed him in the intensive care unit and not the stomach surgery that knocked him off his training routine as the ride approached.

It was just weeks after his surgery and days before LOWVELO22 when Mansson had a meeting with his surgeon and declared that he was going to bike in the 100-mile ride to support lifesaving cancer research at MUSC Hollings Cancer Center. His surgeon laughed at him.

“He said ‘You’re not riding a bike 100 miles. It’s too dangerous. You can’t ride a real bicycle,’” remembered Mansson. “And I said, ‘Well, I made a promise and I’m going to do it. I’ll ride a stationary bike then.’ And he laughed at me and I don’t think he thought I was being serious.”

But Mansson had never been more serious and, with his surgeon’s eventual blessing, he reached out to the LOWVELO team and explained his predicament and his desire to fulfill his promise. That’s all it took. A special stationary bicycle was set up at the finish line for Mansson and he saddled up and rode those 100 miles in place as the other riders rolled across the finish line next to him.

Though some might find his perseverance inspiring, watching the long-distance riders finish is what Mansson calls the really moving part of that day. “I know they all went to some dark places and for whatever the reason they were riding, they met those reasons on that day. That’s what I was really proud to be a part of.”

Mansson’s reason was a little girl with an infectious smile, a
positive attitude and a heart filled with courage – his niece, Parker.

Parker's journey

man on stationary cycle
When Michael Mansson had surgery that prevented him from getting on a road bike, he decided to cycle 100 miles on a stationary bike to keep a promise to his niece. Photo by Ben Egelson

In the summer of 2020, Parker Mansson, then 9 years old, and her family moved from North Carolina to Park City, Utah. But just hours after arriving in her new hometown was when Parker’s journey really began. That was when she had her first of countless trips to the hospital. After a series of misdiagnoses, doctors finally located a mass in Parker’s abdomen and diagnosed her with a form of pediatric sarcoma.

This threw Parker and her family into a two-year tailspin of tests, surgeries, treatments and hospital stays. Through it all, her uncle remembers that she had an uncanny ability to bring joy, happiness and laughter to every situation.

Photo provided

“Parker took on her battle with sarcoma the same way she did her daily life,” said Mansson. “A smile on her face, an upbeat attitude, just profound courage. Parker loved all things life ­– anything outside, all animals, all people.”

By 2022, Parker’s doctors had tried the strongest radiation therapy, the most potent chemotherapy and multiple aggressive and invasive surgeries and they all failed to rid her body of the cancer. Many of her treatments created positive results at first, but the cancer always progressed.

“Watching my family go through that is probably the most difficult thing I have ever had to do,” said Mansson. “All you want to do is be able to help and there’s nothing you can do. You can give them your love. You can make sure they know you’re there for them, but at the end of the day, they’re taking on this fight and we can’t take that pain away from them.”

An uncle on a mission

To do something, anything, for his niece, Mansson rode in his first LOWVELO on a cold and blustery day in 2021. His goal was 100 miles, but Mother Nature had other ideas. With wind and drizzle whipping through the Lowcountry, all riders were forced to remain on the Isle of Palms and Sullivan’s Island and for many, the day was cut short before they reached their mileage goal. Mansson and his team were upset that they didn’t get to ride the full route but knew the disappointment and the struggles they faced physically and mentally from the cold were nothing compared to what Parker and her family were facing daily.

In 2022, Michael knew he had to raise the bar. “I asked Parker, ‘What do you want to do?’ And she looked at me straight in the face and said ‘$40,000,’ just nonchalantly.”

man smiling for camera with Ravenel Bridge behind him
Photo by Clif Rhodes

Mansson’s team, Parker’s Warriors, hit that goal and then some. But in a devastating turn, Parker wasn’t there to see it. In the spring of 2022, doctors felt that they had exhausted all options and viable treatments, and the focus shifted to comfort and palliative care. Family and friends, including Mansson, flocked to Utah to be there with Parker. On May 24, 2022, she died, just three weeks after her 11th birthday.

“Being her uncle was an honor – is an honor,” said Mansson. “She and my daughter are several months apart from each other in age. So, it had a profound effect of just being very close to heart and close to home for me. My family loved every minute that we got to spend with Parker.”

That impact continues to be the fuel that keeps Mansson going in his pursuit to bring hope to other families. He is now a member of the LOWVELO Executive Committee, and his goal for LOWVELO23 is to find 40 people to join Parker’s Warriors and ride with him in November. That’s more than double the size of his team last year.

“Those extra people are more people learning about Parker and about the severe underfunding and lack of research that there is on so many different forms of cancer, especially pediatric,” said Mansson, who already has people committed to joining the team from all over the U.S. – including New Hampshire, Oregon and Indiana.

LOWVELO23 will take place on Saturday, Nov. 4. This fifth annual event will rally the community together for one great cause – funding lifesaving cancer research. One hundred percent of rider-raised dollars go directly to research at MUSC Hollings Cancer Center. Riders have the option of choosing one of five routes – 10 miles, 20 miles, 23 miles, 50 miles, or 80 miles. There is also a virtual LOWVELO Home Team option for those who feel more comfortable logging miles on their own or who would like to participate from afar. Riders start either at Brittlebank Park in downtown Charleston or near the Isle of Palms County Park, depending on the routes they sign up for. All riders finish on the Isle of Palms and are invited to a block party chock-full of food, drinks, live music and celebration.

No matter why you ride, you can join in on LOWVELO23 as an individual, start your own team or join a team like Parker’s Warriors.

three kids laughing and cuddling on couch
Parker Mansson and her siblings. Photo provided

“I ride to help Parker live on, to share her story and to help in some small way in the fulfillment of some of her hopes and dreams – killing cancer and helping people in need,” said Mansson. “By riding under the team name of Parker’s Warriors, we’re able to bring further awareness of what is the leading cause of death by disease of children in the U.S. and increase the opportunity to further much-needed research for treatment options that are at times antiquated and ineffective. From this awareness, we are able to, most of all, bring hope to a future patient and their family that are facing what Parker and her family, and far too many others have gone through.”

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