People ride bikes for many reasons. When Bob Lee of Barrington, Illinois, pedals he does it for three: to support ALS research, hospice care and cancer studies. And he rides in a big way: not around the block but across the country. Since 2001, this now 74 year old has completed three trips — close to 12,000 miles altogether — and raised $1.35 million. For the next “Ride for 3 Reasons” campaign, Lee is passing the torch to another cyclist, who will make a coast-to-coast journey from San Diego to St. Augustine, Florida, in February 2017.
From the beginning, Ride for 3 Reasons has supported the Les Turner ALS Foundation — a longstanding partner of Northwestern Medicine — to advance ALS research. Next year, charitable dollars from the nonprofit organization will again support Les Turner as well as the National Hospice Foundation. And, for the first time, the Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center of Northwestern University will be the beneficiary of the ride’s third focus, cancer research.
“We need to be thoughtful stewards of our donors’ contributions,” says Lee. “The Lurie Cancer Center tells a passionate story of excellent patient care and innovative research based on developing specific treatments for each individual’s particular tumor type and needs. We are very impressed by this approach.”
Together We Are Stronger
In 1999, Lee retired from a successful executive career. He lasted about three weeks before “redirecting.” “I woke up one day and said, ‘What am I doing with my life? What’s my purpose?” While not exactly a hardcore cycling enthusiast, he soon found three missions that would give him the “pedal power” to ride solo over tall mountains and into deep valleys in all kinds of weather for charity.
Before leaving the corporate world, Lee read the book Tuesdays with Morrie by Mitch Albom. The memoir features the author’s former professor who had ALS, a progressive and ultimately fatal neurodegenerative condition. “I didn’t know anyone with the disease, but I gave the book to my neighbor,” recounts Lee. “Five months later, he was diagnosed with ALS.” Lee became passionate about raising awareness and funds for ALS. He eventually served on Les Turner’s board of directors for 14 years; he gave up his seat on the board this summer to focus on the 2017 ride.
Lee’s interests in hospice care and cancer research are also personal: Lee’s mom peacefully died under the care of “hospice angels” who he couldn’t thank enough for their compassion. Ride for 3 Reasons’ support of hospice care led to the creation of “Be@Ease,” an advanced care planning program. And Lee understands that cancer touches many: He is a colon cancer survivor and his wife of 51 years, Anne, overcame breast cancer in 2008.
Managing three charitable causes at once has proven “interesting” at times but Lee believes, “If we all work together, we can be stronger.” To avoid fostering a competition between the organizations designated to benefit from the ride, a Pacesetter Challenge Pledge Fund has been established. For every dollar donated, another two dollars are unlocked via matching funds. Remarks Lee, “Every charity benefits equally.” To raise the money for the matching fund, Lee seeks the support of individuals or foundations willing to commit $100,000 each. So far, the fund is up to $400,000. Ride for 3 Reasons must raise at least 50 percent or more than the Pacesetter fund or otherwise return the matching funds to donors.
Lee completed his last trip in 2012 and wasn’t really thinking about another until earlier this year when a Barrington teenager contacted him. Jan Gierlach first learned about the ride when Lee came to his third-grade class to give a presentation. Although the two didn’t meet formally at that time, 9-year-old Gierlach made it his dream to follow Lee’s path. Now 18, Gierlach will finish high school a semester early. Taking over for Lee, he will make the upcoming Ride for 3 Reasons his own solo journey. Losing a grandfather to cancer and a family friend to ALS and having a grandmother who received hospice care, Gierlach has embraced the campaign’s missions, stating on the campaign’s website that “these three reasons are just as much mine, as they are Bob’s and they are all of yours.”
While Lee hasn’t given up the idea of making another ride himself someday, he is beyond happy to have sparked a sense of purpose in young Gierlach. Says Lee, “You never know who is listening and whose lives you are impacting.” Indeed, very true and fitting for the many individuals and their families who will benefit from the generosity of Ride for 3 Reasons for years to come.
Learn more about Ride for 3 Reasons and follow Gierlach’s journey across America by visiting www.ridefor3reasons.org.