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COVID-19 forces bike ride to go virtual, but its cancer-fighting goal rides on

"It really has been a blessing to still be able to do what we set out to do, just in a different way," said Maile McQuaid of Plano.

DALLAS — COVID-19 has changed so many things. We say that a lot these days. But for a group of college students, it has not changed their dedication to a worthy and life-saving cause.

If this was a normal year, 80 college students would be on their bicycles right now pedaling 4,000 miles from Austin, Texas all the way to Anchorage, Alaska raising money to fight cancer. It's called the Texas 4000 for Cancer, a coveted and competitive 18-month leadership program that includes 50 hours of volunteer community service and culminates with the 70-day bicycle trip across the United States and Canada.

But instead of enjoying the sometimes grueling cross-country journey, this year two young ladies, Peyton Love from Bedford and Maile McQuaid from Plano, got stuck at home doing a Zoom interview.

"Yes, it was pretty disappointing and honestly heartbreaking in a way for our team," McQuaid said of the impact COVID-19 has had on the event this year.

"I think we were all very disappointed but you know our mission is centered around fighting cancer and we're just fulfilling it in a little bit different of a way this summer I think," said Love.

That different way... is to keep pedaling anyway.

Normally the 10-week journey takes the riders to the homes of host families who give them a place to stay and a chance to meet some of the cancer warriors they are fighting for. But due to concerns about COVID-19, the bike ride was canceled.

"With everything going on I think it's a reminder of we have to do our part in making sure that we are being safe so that everyone around us that we love is also safe," said Love.

So this year the ride went virtual. The riders, in different teams pedaling different virtual routes, are still putting in the miles on stationary bikes, trainers, and in solo outdoor rides. The online platform allows them to ride together, have their usual conversations and meetings and fundraisers online, and still raise upwards of $500,000 for hospitals and other organizations fighting cancer. Each rider is tasked with raising at least $4,500.

"As students, as young students, we can take on this mission of fighting cancer that seems so daunting and there's very tangible things that we've been able to do," said Love.

"It really has been a blessing to still be able to do what we set out to do just in a different way," added McQuaid.

Both McQuaid and Love, who graduated from The University of Texas at Austin this year, are pursuing careers in medicine: Love is doing so in memory of the grandfather she lost to cancer her sophomore year.

"Hopefully I can continue this work throughout the rest of my life," she said of her plans for medical school and a focus on oncology.

So, their lives and their dreams of a cross-country capstone to their college careers were interrupted by COVID-19. But in perspective, they say that's something they can handle.

"It's taught me that things can always change and aren't what you expect and that there's a lot of surprises in life," McQuaid said.

The Texas 4000 for Cancer continues online through Friday June 26th. You can watch the live events on both Facebook and YouTube.

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