Padres Pedal the Cause marks 10 years of raising money for cancer research
Despite being in surgery about a month ago for a rare form of ovarian cancer, 18-year-old Natalie Licosati was bright eyed at Saturday’s Padres Pedal the Cause, an annual bike ride and fundraiser for cancer research.
The teen, a high school senior, was diagnosed in October. Her family has helped her stay positive over the last few months, but she looked forward to meeting new people — a new community — at the weekend event.
Licosati and her family were among more than 3,000 participants who flooded downtown San Diego to bike, walk and cheer on teams raising money for cancer research.
Pedal the Cause is a day that brings together the San Diegans fighting cancer and the scientists who are searching for a cure, organizers said. Curebound, a local nonprofit, hosts the annual event to raise money for collaborative cancer research in San Diego County. The organization funds grants that go directly to local researchers and scientists who are working to eradicate the disease.
Licosati’s white jersey was emblazoned with her and her family’s team name, Bill’s Angels, on the back.
Bill Koman, a cancer survivor, and his wife Amy Koman co-founded the event a decade ago. There were just under 1,000 participants that first year.
Since then, the event has tripled in size, she said, and has raised $18.2 million in the past decade for cancer research.
Amy Koman said cancer is an issue that touches everyone, and she and her husband hope the event continues to grow. On Saturday, there were more than 100 Bill’s Angels.
On Saturday, riders of all ages shuffled through Petco Park as live music blared in Gallagher Square. Some were pushing bikes, and others carried posters with shiny words of encouragement. Under the Bumble Bee Seafoods building was a wall where people used colorful markers to complete the phrase “I ride for” with the name of someone impacted by cancer.
Once the races began, participants had the rare opportunity to ride bicycles over the iconic San Diego-Coronado Bridge without having to contend with cars. Early in the morning, the bridge was shut down for riders in the 75-, 55- and 25-mile bike rides.
More than $2.3 million was raised this year, which will likely surpass last year’s fundraiser, said Anne Marbarger, CEO of Curebound. Pedal the Cause fundraising continues a month after Saturday’s festivities.
Marbarger said a unique feature of her organization’s grants is that they require collaboration between research institutions. Curebound awards three types of grants that range from $250,000 to $1 million to advance critical cancer research from the idea phase to a clinical solution.
“It’s very hard for scientists to get early phase funding for innovative ideas,” she said. “This organization is all about San Diego and the fundraising comes from San Diego, (and) it’s reinvested in our scientists here in this community.”
The money raised will funnel into six partner institutions: UC San Diego Moores Cancer Center, the Salk Institute, Sanford Burnham Prebys, Rady Children’s Hospital, La Jolla Institute for Immunology and Scripps Research.
Dr. Joseph Califano III, director of Moores Cancer Center, said that not only does this money encourage collaboration, but it meets researchers at a crucial point in the process of developing cancer drugs. For instance, the money from Curebound has allowed researchers in the Moores Cancer Center’s Advanced Cell Therapy Lab to create anti-cancer cell therapies that are currently being used to treat patients.
“There are large clinical trials for drugs that have already been developed by pharmaceutical companies,” he said. “They already kind of know their winners … And so, it’s really helpful to have an organization like this that allows us to take a chance on those new therapies.”
After two-and-a-half hours riding in the 25-mile race, the Licosatis hopped off their e-bikes and huddled together for a group picture in the outfield of Petco Park.
Janie Licosati said her daughter rode and talked with a woman who survived cancer the entire way.
“The personal aspect of this whole thing was this village coming together to help each other,” she said. “Yeah, it may be about Natalie for the next 30 seconds but it’s always about someone and that feeling of community and … and coming together to ride.”