Even in a pandemic, cancer research supporters pedal to fundraising success.
Tom Ollila RES’16 F’19, MD, an oncologist with the Comprehensive Cancer Center at The Miriam Hospital, is an avid cyclist.
“I always bike to work. I actually biked to this Zoom meeting today,” he says with a laugh.
In early 2019, while on a daily bike ride, Ollila, an assistant professor of medicine, realized he could use his love for bicycling to fundraise for the Brown University Oncology Research Group (BrUOG), which coordinates clinical trials for novel cancer therapies at Brown-affiliated hospitals.
With his colleagues, Ollila devised biking routes, submitted plans to local officials, and gained sponsors for the event. The very first Tour de Rhody, held in September 2019, raised almost $20,000.
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Ollila knew that the Tour de Rhody 2020 would be unlike the previous year’s. In order to keep the ride socially distanced and safe, the organizers devised several safety precautions: participants had to ride in groups of 15 or fewer, and they had staggered start times, rather than everyone starting the ride together. They offered three different routes, and riders received specially made Tour de Rhody face masks. Though the end-of-ride party had to be canceled, many riders gathered outdoors at the Hot Club, a waterfront restaurant in Providence that donated some of the day’s revenues to BrUOG.
Despite the pandemic and the restrictions, the 2020 Tour de Rhody was a bigger success than the first, attracting more than 200 riders and raising over $50,000. The money will fund investigator-initiated clinical trials at BrUOG, allowing academic physicians like Ollila to put forward new potential treatments and reach more patients.
“The Tour de Rhody has become a lot more than a bike ride,” Ollila says. “A lot of our riders share why they ride. For so many of them, the Tour de Rhody is a way to celebrate and remember loved ones they’ve lost to cancer.”
He and the Tour de Rhody team have already started planning this year’s event, which will take place September 19. They’re looking to grow their sponsors, reach more riders, and add new routes. If public health restrictions allow, maybe they’ll even get to party together after the ride.