Skinny Tire Festival inspires perseverance, generosity

Hundreds of road bicyclists gathered in Moab last weekend for the 12th annual Moab Skinny Tire Festival. The event was held Saturday, March 10 through Tuesday, March 13.

Besides collectively covering thousands of miles during the four-day tour, participants also raised thousands of dollars for cancer research and cancer-related programs.

For the first time in the event’s 11-year history, the festival’s annual “Spirit of Survivorship” award was presented to a Moab resident – Arlo Tejada.

Speaking at a gathering of Skinny Tire Festival registrants, family members, and other supporters on Saturday afternoon at the Aarchway Inn, Tejada’s voice choked with emotion as he recalled his ongoing battle with Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Tejada said he was first diagnosed with the form of lymphatic cancer in 2010, the year he turned 30.

Over the past year and a half since his initial diagnosis, Tejada said he has encountered relapses and setbacks, not to mention financial struggles.

Still, Tejada said he is hopeful that a new drug known as SGN-35 may be able to successfully treat his cancer. The medicine, also known as Adcetris, was recently approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and is the first new drug approved to treat Hodgkin’s lymphoma in 35 years. The drug specifically targets Hodgkin’s lymphoma cells, Tejada said.

Tejada said he underwent his first treatment with the drug three weeks ago, adding that so far, it seems to be working well. Although Tejada received his first dose of SGN-35 in Salt Lake City, the next 15 treatments are scheduled to be administered at Moab Regional Hospital, he said.

Over the past several years, the Skinny Tire Festival played a crucial role in helping raise money to create the Moab Cancer Treatment and Resource Center, which is now in operation at Moab Regional Hospital.

“Because of what you do, I get to do the rest of the treatments here in my hometown,” Tejada told the audience.

Also on Saturday afternoon, Moab Skinny Tire organizers Mark Griffith and Beth Logan presented a check for more than $28,000 to Moab Regional Hospital. The amount represented the donations to date that had been made by this year’s Skinny Tire participants.

Accepting the donation on behalf of the hospital, hospital CEO Roy Barraclough thanked the participants for their generosity. “We could not do what we do without your help,” Barraclough said.

Logan said that in the 11-year history of the event, Moab Skinny Tire participants have collectively raised more than $2.6 million in donations, which is distributed annually to a variety of organizations.

Also on Saturday, a drawing was held for a new custom, hand-built Blaze bicycle, with the proceeds going to help Dakoda Merret, a Moab toddler who has been undergoing a series of cancer treatments.

“Never underestimate the ability of small groups to change the world,” said Griffith, who founded the Moab Skinny Tire event after being inspired by professional cyclist Lance Armstrong’s cancer-fighting efforts.

The Moab Skinny Tire event’s featured guest speaker Saturday was Marty Jemison, a Salt Lake City native who raced competitively on the pro circuit for nearly a decade. Jemison competed in the Tour de France twice as a teammate of Armstrong’s. Jemison, who estimated he’s ridden more than 250,000 miles in his career, answered several questions from audience members about his experiences at the Tour de France and other world-class events.

Tuesday afternoon, as the festival wound to a close, Larry Peterson of Centerville, Utah, reflected on his experience as a participant.

Peterson rode all four days of the tour, accompanied by his son, Tony Peterson, and fellow riding partner, Jason Bleak. This year’s event marked Larry Peterson’s fourth straight Moab Skinny Tire Festival. The group stayed at the home of Larry’s sister, Deanna Mecham of Moab.

The trio each logged more than 250 miles during the four-day event, Peterson said. They not only completed the initial scheduled ride to Dead Horse Point and back to Moab on Saturday, but they also continued riding for approximately 40 more miles later that afternoon, giving them a total of 102 miles on the first day alone.

Peterson said he and his group opted to go off-road and try a new mountain bike trail near Gemini Bridges Tuesday morning. “We brought our mountain bikes, too, just in case,” he said.

Peterson said he finds inspiration in cancer survivors, victims and others who have been affected by the disease. He and his fellow riders keep lists of names of the people who inspire them and sometimes stop at key locations during their rides to inscribe those names in chalk on the road, he said.

Peterson said he enjoys taking part in Skinny Tire and other such events for three main reasons: to raise money and awareness in the fight against cancer, to get to meet new people, and to be able to ride in such beautiful surroundings.

“There [are] no stoplights, and hardly any traffic. It’s just you, the river, and the cliffs,” said Peterson. He said he and several friends are looking forward to their next major event – the annual 667-mile ride from Reno, Nev. to Salt Lake City in June, which raises money for the Huntsman Cancer Institute.

ByBy Jeff Richards

contributing writer