Illness sparked Bob Wheeler to get involved, set the pace for cancer fundraising effort.
In 2014, Bob Wheeler, then 48, discovered he had Hodgkin's lymphoma. Although scary and painful, the situation spurred a new passion in Wheeler that he didn't expect—riding in Pelotonia, the 25- to 180-mile bike ride that raises money for cancer research at the Ohio State University James Cancer Hospital. As the CEO of Airstream, maker of iconic metal motorhomes since the 1930s, Wheeler has imparted his passion to Airstream employees both in Ohio (where it has been headquartered since the 1950s in Jackson Center) and all over the nation. Now, six Airstream employees and people associated with the company are part of Wheeler's team of around 25 people. Airstream is the team's primary sponsor, and its logo can be seen on the backs of the shirts worn by the riders, who will ride in 2019's event Aug. 2-4.
Airstream riders come from all over to join the Cancer Crushers team. Wheeler says one dealer drove from California towing an Airstream. Wheeler's college roommate flies in from Minneapolis. A sales rep from North Carolina will be participating in his third ride this year. Another dealer from Ontario flew to Columbus and rode last year with his son-in-law. “It's not an official thing,” he says. “It's just they've heard my story and gotten inspired to check it out themselves.” Many of them, once they've ridden in one event, vow to participate every year because they love Pelotonia so much.
Wheeler discovered the team at his health club while he was still undergoing chemotherapy, and even began to train for his first ride before he was finished with treatment. Although made much more difficult by the fact that he had never ridden long distances and was weakened by chemo, he managed to pull off the training. “It was a very supportive team. Somebody would stay back and ride with me,” he says.
This year's Pelotonia will be Wheeler's fifth ride—he's five years cancer free. The Cancer Crushers will join more than 7,000 others on their ride. Wheeler says the event is more emotional than one might expect. “All these people, they're not riding for pride or speed or to win anything. They're riding for this common cause that's something bigger than all of [us].”
Chloe Teasley is staff writer for Columbus CEO.***
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