Living the Mission

Pedal Pushers
Four Holy Cross siblings have raised more than a million dollars for cancer-related causes through their Ride for Hope Bahamas charity bike ride.


By Christine Hofmann-Bourque

The finish line at the annual Ride for Hope Bahamas is a spirited affair. Each one of the 600 or so bike riders is welcomed in traditional Bahamian Junkanoo fashion, which involves enthusiastically loud cowbells, goatskin drums, whistles, clapping and yelling. It’s truly cause for celebration. Not only have the bikers completed a scenic loop of up to 100 miles around the island of Eleuthera, but they’ve helped Ride for Hope organizers and supporters—including Crusaders Susan (Holowesko) Larson ’79, Ann Marie Holowesko Hall ’83, Mark Holowesko ’82 and Diane Holowesko Dunkley ’78—raise money for cancer treatment, research and education. 

Ride for Hope Bahamas (RFH) was co-founded in 2006 by Susan and her brother Stephen. Stephen had been biking in charity events in the United States when he and Susan decided they should organize a similar event in their home country, the Bahamas. “We were brought up in a family environment where my parents were always doing things for the community,” says Susan, whose ancestors, among the earliest Europeans in the Bahamas, settled there more than 350 years ago. “Do something. That’s part of my family’s culture. The idea of giving back is paramount to us.”

Because Nassau, where the Holowesko siblings all live and work, is a bustling city with heavily trafficked roads that aren’t conducive to a leisurely bike ride, RFH takes place instead on the nearby island of Eleuthera. It’s a remote location where the Holowesko ancestral home still stands and where mostly empty roads wind along the breathtaking shoreline. But the island’s pristine beauty comes with one drawback. Eleuthera has very little infrastructure, so all supplies for the ride must be shipped by ferry to the island, from pencils, sports drinks and notebooks to ambulances, tents and chairs. Six huge shipping containers alone are used to transport participants’ bikes. “It’s like a massive military campaign,” jokes Susan, who received the honor of Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire in 2010 from Queen Elizabeth for her community service and efforts to protect the environment.

Diane Holowesko Dunkley '78 paints inspiring messages, silly jokes and drawings (see photo) along the course. "It's amazing how many bikers mark their journey and try to find the willpower to keep going to make it to the next message," she says.

 

 

Thanks to corporate sponsors (who underwrite the now-six figure cost of putting on the event) and 250 volunteers (who help set up and run it), RFH is able to donate to charity 100 percent of every rider’s funds raised. In the course of just six years, the event has raised $1.7 million and hosted 1,600 cyclists from around the world. “When we started we had big dreams for Ride for Hope,” says Susan. “We never imagined we’d be getting to our goals so quickly.”

RFH funnels its donations to a range of cancer-related organizations, but breast cancer is its most urgent concern.

The statistics in the Bahamas are shocking: The Bahamas has the highest rate of inherited breast cancer in the world. Women in the Bahamas also get breast cancer at young ages—often in their 20s—and receive later-stage diagnoses, according to the American Society of Clinical Oncology. “We’re getting attention from cancer researchers for all the wrong reasons, for this extremely aggressive mutation of the BRCA1 gene,” says Susan, who points to the creation of the Family Islands Mammogram Screening Program as one of RFH’s many successes. The program pays to bring women living on islands without mammography equipment to Nassau for testing. RFH also supports groups such as the Bahamas Breast Cancer Initiative, which is funding key research into the mutations of the BRCA1 gene unique to that country.

Bikers of all ages and abilities are welcome at RFH.

“It’s not a race,” says Diane. Bikers ride a distance of their own choosing, up to 100 miles. Because involving young people is important to the Holoweskos, there is a three-mile loop for children that has its midway point at an ice cream stand.

“It’s families teaching their children the importance of giving back to the community,” says Diane, who has biked every year with her daughter Zoe.

Friend of the family and fellow Crusader Cathy O’Neil ’77 is gearing up to volunteer at her second Ride for Hope in 2012.

She got involved after her husband took a job in the Bahamas with Mark Holowesko’s hedge fund. “I am so impressed by this entire family,” says Cathy. “ ‘Men and women for others’ is how they live their lives. It’s a family for others.”

The seventh annual Ride for Hope Bahamas will take place on April 14, 2012. For more information and to register, visit rideforhopebahamas.com.