Oct. 5, 2017 | Ritchie Brown of Little Rock has had two stem-cell transplants since December 2016.
But you certainly couldn’t tell it Sept. 23 as he rode his bicycle 50 miles to raise awareness of multiple myeloma, the cancer he has been fighting with the help of the UAMS Myeloma Center.
Brown, who is in complete remission, was part of a group of 81 riders who participated in the institute’s “Ride for Research” as part of the annual Big Dam Bridge 100 in Little Rock, which drew more than 3,200 others from 32 states.
Ride for Research was the brainchild of Myeloma Center Director Gareth Morgan, M.D., Ph.D., who with Deputy Director Faith Davies, M.D., took to their bicycles to lead their team on the ride that had various course lengths from 10 to 100 miles.
The institute’s team included patients, their families, sponsors, supporters and 24 UAMS employees —13 of them from the Myeloma Center. Besides increasing awareness of the disease, their efforts raised about $75,000 in donations and pledges.
“It was a great ride and I exceeded some personal goals,” said Brown, 57, a structural engineer who posted a finish time of 2:37. His wife, Tina, came in at four hours. Brown’s son, Reid, also an avid cyclist, rode the entire 100 miles with a finish time of 3:58.
“It was exciting to perform at near pre-diagnosis levels,” said Brown, who rides a Trek Madone. He learned about the race from Cerisse Harcourt, A.P.R.N., his nurse at the institute, and began training as soon as he finished treatment July 13.
Brown didn’t get to ride alongside his physician, Maurizio Zangari, M.D., who rode a different 32-mile course with wife, Elda, and son, Alex, but passed him as they were going in opposite directions.
The eve of the race, the institute hosted a carbohydrate-loading buffet of salad, pasta and desserts at a local restaurant in Little Rock’s Riverdale neighborhood where Morgan welcomed 70 guests, most of them riders or sponsors.
“The people who are cycling are doing a little bit of suffering in tribute to the patients who do a lot of suffering when they are going through treatment,” Morgan explained. “But I think we really are curing people and this is in tribute to all of you who are the patients.”
Brown said he was very appreciative of both the ride and dinner. “It was great to meet the doctors and researchers in a social setting and to make connections with other patients.”
The Ride for Research team members, ages 8 to 80, rode distances on various courses. Of the 10 members signing up for the 100-mile course, five were with the institute, including Morgan and Davies.
Others were myeloma researchers Brian Walker, Ph.D., and Sarah K. Johnson, Ph.D., who crossed the finish line together, and Niels Weinhold, Ph.D., the only employee to ride the course on a mountain bike. Weinhold rode a Trek Superfly, which he said lived up to its name. He finished in 7:06:18.
Did he get some ribbing from his colleagues about his cycling choice?
“A lot,” Weinhold said. “But it stopped way before the finish line.” During his ride, he had a flat tire near the Wye Mountain station and had to walk a few hundred yards before he found a pump to repair it. The flat cost him about 30 to 45 minutes.
“Fortunately, and in contrast to several road bikers, a nice older couple from the Wye Mountain neighborhood took pity on me.”
Finishing mid-afternoon, he rested and waited at the finish line for the rest of his colleagues. Walker and Johnson arrived next.
As the sun continued to sink in the late-afternoon sky, Morgan and Davies were the last to ride across the finish line about eight minutes after the race officially closed at 4:30 p.m. and mere moments before the inflated finish line was lowered.
It remained longer than it otherwise would have, amid pleas from Morgan’s and Davies’ supporters, who were tracking them via a phone that showed they were two minutes away.
As the pair of physicians rounded the final bend and came into sight, cheers broke out and noise makers clanked as Morgan and Davies were greeted and celebrated.
Arriving later than anticipated, they were still right on time. Everyone on the team, regardless of the miles conquered, went the distance, showing their true colors in red, gray and black UAMS cycling jerseys as they literally rode for research.
Brown had high praise for his experiences of being treated at Myeloma Center and said he would quickly recommend others with the rare blood and bone disease seek treatment there.
“Living in Little Rock, being treated at UAMS was an easy decision,” he said. “The UAMS staff have always made difficult situations better.”
Brown said all the UAMS employees he’s encountered during his treatment do their best to be happy and fun while maintaining professionalism in treating a very serious disease.
“I told my wife that considering the situation of the patients, the myeloma clinic and Infusion 4 are the happiest places you will ever be.”