Jeff Jardine: Cycling successes aiding Modesto's Team in Training for leukemia/lymphoma research

02/24/2014 5:18 PM

02/24/2014 10:13 PM

When leukemia claimed Nancy Bradley in September 2005, her husband, Mel, never had heard of Team In Training.

The organization raises money for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society by recruiting people to run or walk full or half marathons, or participate in cycling events. The participants secure pledges totaling $2,500 from friends, acquaintances, neighbors and anyone else they can to support the cause. Coaches spend 18 weeks training the runners and walkers, getting them into shape to handle the distances. Many become motivated to help because they are touched by the disease through family members or friends who battle it. Others are avid runners or walkers who opt to raise money through what they do as a matter of habit.

At 57 years old, with creaky knees and admittedly out of shape, Mel knew he’d never run a marathon or even a half marathon. While Nancy was at Stanford fighting a losing battle with the disease, he began riding his mountain bike in the hills near Palo Alto.

“I needed physical activity to combat the emotional stress,” he said. “At the time, I thought riding five miles in a weekend was a lot of riding. But over there, people ride all over the place. There would be 80-year-old women going by me like I’m not even moving. I called a friend and was telling him about it. He said, ‘You still on a mountain bike? That’s your problem. Go get a road bike.’ ”

Mel did, and soon found himself riding 20 miles a day and 50 miles on Sundays.

“I was in pretty good shape by the time she passed away,” he said.

His daughter, Cheryle Bradley, was preparing to run the Women’s Nike Marathon in San Francisco. He’d just tag along, right?

“I’ll be your shadow,” Mel told her. He ended up walking the half marathon but became fully enamored with Team In Training. “I was so taken by what it’s all about.”

After Nancy died and he returned home to Oakdale, Mel contacted the local Team In Training folks to join their cycling team, to raise money and hopefully prevent someone else someday from enduring what his wife and family did. Modesto didn’t have a cycling team, though. The city is part of the Sacramento chapter, which stretches from Los Banos to the Oregon border. Want to ride bikes for the cause? You had to go to Sacramento.

“I began going up there every weekend to ride,” he said. They trained for rides around Lake Tahoe and other events. Meanwhile, he kept bugging the Modesto TNT manager to get a local group going.

“I was on her unmercifully about why there was no Bike TNT group here,” he said.

That changed in 2012, after Melissa Van Diepen took over as senior campaign manager. She called Mel and asked him to assemble a cycling team in the Modesto area. No thanks, he told her.

“By that time, I’d been going to Sacramento for seven years,” he said. “I didn’t want to give up all of those friendships.”

She wasn’t asking him to merely ride, though. “She told me, ‘No, you’re going to coach it,’ ” Mel said.

“We were a little more diplomatic than that,” Van Diepen said.

Mel began recruiting, and rounded up a group of 21 riders from Modesto who participated in the Viva Bike Vegas event in the fall of 2012. They trained 25 for the ride around Lake Tahoe in 2013, with 41 signed up to train for this year’s Tahoe event. In less than two full years, the cyclists have raised $185,000, with a goal of $80,000 in the 2013-14 fiscal year, which ends June 30.

“We’re going to blow that goal out of the water,” Van Diepen said.

Overall, TNT in Modesto has raised more than $850,000 since she came aboard, and expects to surpass the $1 million mark by the end of 2014, with a triathlon team (run six miles, bike 25 and swim a half-mile) in the making. More than 80 percent of the money goes toward research and patient services, she said.

“The chemistry here is incredible,” Mel said. “We’re growing and gearing up for the Tahoe ride. Melissa and I have put lots of effort into the cycling program.”

It’s really rolling, you might say.

For more information, contact Modesto’s Team in Training office at (209) 522-1800 or visit and click on “local partners.”

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