On July 22, hundreds of cyclists congregated at Central Park in Channahon in order to fulfill the vision of one man who wants to fight back and find a cure for a rare disease.
At the age of 17, Kyle Bryant received news that his struggles with coordination and throwing during baseball were not fleeting moments, but symptoms of a rare genetic disease called Friedreich’s ataxia.
“Playing sports contributed to me knowing something was wrong,” Bryant said. “The biggest thing for me was the fact that this is a life-shortening disease. At 17, I had my whole life in front of me. This was a big turning point. I had to look at my future and look what it meant for me and my family. It was scary.”
Bryant looked to other groups for inspiration, information and support. He decided not to let FA dictate his life so he and his father took a bicycle ride in 2007 from San Diego, to Memphis, Tennessee. The 2,500-mile ride took the duo 59 days to accomplish and, along the way, they raised awareness of FA and raised money for research.
FA is a debilitating, life-shortening, degenerative neuro-muscular disorder, according to the Friedreich’s Ataxia Research Alliance. About one in 50,000 people in the U.S. has the disease. Most people have symptoms between the ages of 5- and 18-years-old, and adult onset FA has proved to be less common. FARA said the organization supports ongoing research to improve the quality and length of life for those diagnosed.
After his initial bicycle ride with this father, Bryant launched rideATAXIA to raise money for FARA. He chose spots around the country that had high concentrations of people with FA. Rides take place annually in or around parts of California, Dallas, Chicago, Orlando and Philadelphia.
Bryant said he chose Channahon as the Chicago ride location because of easy access to the Illinois and Michigan Canal and the countryside.
“Chicago is a big area with a big population, so I wouldn’t want to do a ride in downtown Chicago. Channahon is trail accessible, we don’t have to shut down roads, and we have had great support from the police and the Channahon Park District,” Bryant said.
Channahon Mayor Missey Schumacher came out to meet Bryant and participants before the 9 a.m. wave.
“I just want to tell them thanks for choosing Channahon. I knew nothing about FA, so I researched the disease and I commend all of these people here for their efforts to fund a cure,” Schumacher said.
At 6:45 a.m. July 22, the tents went up around Central Park and vehicles with bike racks started to pull into the parking lots. People from all over the country gathered as friends with one common thread – FA.
There were five routes and distances the 400 riders could choose from during the morning fundraiser. Before each group left, Bryant gave words of encouragement as the Channahon police led an escort.
“Today the worldwide FA community knows what’s going on. They realize you are riding for everyone in the community to advance Friedreich’s ataxia research, and you should be really proud of that,” Bryant said. “Let that knowledge of your impact, let that fuel your ride today, put that into every pedal stroke, knowing fully that every pedal stroke you take gets us closer to a cure.”
The first ride to take off was the 50-mile ride, which wound around highways to Morris, then up north of Minooka and back down. The 27-mile group took Cemetery Road to Morris and turned around back to the park. The 12-mile route followed a bike path to McKinley Woods and back, and the 4-mile option took riders around Channahon neighborhoods. The last ride was 1 mile and went around Central Park. Those who chose not to ride walked one mile around the trail inside Central Park.
Emily Young, 22, said she rode to help find a cure.
Young said she was diagnosed 10 years ago.
“I can’t think of a more perfect way to bring people together,” she said.
Paul Hook, a mother of two daughters with FA, Katie, 19, and Carli, 21, previously told The Herald-News the event is important to her and her family.
“This event means everything to us,” Hook said.
Event organizers had a goal of raising $150,000.