Austin cyclist rides more than 300 miles to raise money for fighting children’s cancer


AUSTIN (KXAN) — “She was just like, ‘Get a mohawk. I’ll approve a mohawk for a week.’ And I’m like, ‘why not?’

Local cyclist Gene Vergara’s boss came up with the idea. He’ll style it when he reaches $1,000 in donations. Currently, his shaggy hair provides a little extra padding underneath his bike helmet, but it’s not conducive to a Texas summer.

“This heat right now, it’s brutal. Hopefully it comes off soon,” he said.

He’s looking forward to that $1000 haircut. However, the money isn’t for the barber.

(KXAN Photo/Todd Bailey)

Sept. 1 is the first day of the Great Cycle Challenge, and Vergara is one of the thousands of bicyclists participating across the country. The month is also Childhood Cancer Awareness Month.

Vergara likes to push himself. His goal is 300 miles but he’s already convinced he won’t stop there.

“August alone, I reached about 480-490 miles, so the 300, I’m gonna surpass that and more,” he said. “I’m just gonna ride. Ride, and see where I reach.”

The miles and money are for fighting children’s cancer — a disease near and dear to his heart.

“We lost my uncle in I think 2014 and lost an aunt in 2015. Both to cancer,” Vergara said. “My other family members have lost other friends due to cancer. It’s an ugly beast and I know how it affects adults. Can just imagine how it affects children.”

43 children in the U.S. are diagnosed with cancer every day, according to the St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. In Travis County, cancer is the leading cause of death, according to a 2017 Austin Public Health report.

(KXAN Photo/Todd Bailey)

Vergara gets questioned a lot about why he’s riding for children’s cancer if his own children are healthy, and his answer is always the same.

“I’m riding for the kids that can’t ride for themselves,” he said. “Kids should be having fun, not going through chemo and sitting in a [hospital] bed looking out the window. They need to be at home with their family. They need to be outside. They need to not be in a hospital for any reason.”

There’s one child, in particular, he has on his mind. Joseph Gallen DeWaele fought acute lymphoblastic leukemia for nine months. He passed away in November 2019.

Vergara is part of Team #JoeStrong. They are riding in DeWaele’s memory. So far, the group has raised more than $66,000. All funds will go towards cancer research. Vergara’s not stopping there. Each month he hopes to ride for a different cause. He’s also currently riding for Bikes and Beers — a virtual cycling event that supports COVID-19 relief for breweries. It runs until Sept. 6.

“You just never know what people are going through, and it’s always that good gesture that may help someone out. Try a little harder to put a smile on their face, to make them feel, ‘ahh…’ — that less worry,” he said.

You can support Vergara by donating on his Great Cycle Challenge page. He’s raised more than half of his goal. All donations will go to the Children’s Cancer Research Fund. You can learn more about the fund on their website.

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