For many, the Kent Eriksen Tour de Steamboat might be just another race to check off the list during the Colorado cycling season. And why not…the 110-mile ride is a grueling challenge that summits three mountain passes (there are also shorter 40- and 26-mile versions).
But in 2008, Tour organizers began raising money for The Sunshine Kids, a non-profit dedicated to children with cancer. While the cause was noble, it took on a new meaning by the following year. Co-founder Brad Cusenbary, an avid biker who had competed in the Mountain States Cup and helped resurrect Steamboat Springs’ annual bike ride, had been diagnosed with brain cancer.
“We thought it was a tense nerve in my neck,” explains Cusenbary, having to speak slowly and deliberately to convey his thoughts due to the effects of the cancer. “When they discovered that wasn’t the case, they sent me to Denver. Before we got there, the doctor told me over the phone that I had a brain tumor.
“My immediate reaction…stunned. To go from a tense nerve to a brain tumor…just stunned.”
Since the diagnosis, Cusenbary has had regular chemotherapy treatments and two surgeries, but perhaps the most difficult process, at least mentally, was the initial experience of “saying over and over, ‘I’ve got cancer.’ “
“After a while, it wasn’t ‘Why me?’ Instead, it became ‘Why not me?’ rather than one of my friends or family having it,” recalls Cusenbary, who calls his wife, Laura, a “rockstar” for the support she has provided him.
At 39 years old, the disease has robbed him of his ability to ride on two wheels. For years he had trained on road bikes and raced on mountain bikes, but the cancer has led to some physical limitations. The tumor is on the left side of the brain, leaving the right side of his body at a deficit. But Cusenbary is determined to return to the sport he loves.
“It really doesn’t matter to me,” he says of expectations about the cancer’s timetable for him. “I’m a fighter and things don’t really apply to me. That’s the attitude I have to take.”
Brad Cusenbary from his mountain biking days.
And so far it’s working. After his second surgery just recently, the doctors informed Brad and Laura that whatever cancer is present seems to be dying.
“I still have a smile on my face [from when we learned the latest news],” Cusenbary says.
With his own condition appearing to be on the upswing and the race he helped co-found approaching, his attention turns to others in need, namely the Sunshine Kids. Despite his own predicament, Cusenbary finds a greater cause in the Tour de Steamboat.
“We can help kids with cancer, because they don’t deserve this.”
To do that, the Tour has expanded in recent years, though it has maintained an intimate feel. When the race was resurrected in 2004, it was only a century ride. A few years ago, a 40-mile ride was added and this year, a new 26-mile route. Brad and fellow co-founder Katie Lindquist, wife of legendary frame builder Kent Eriksen, have preferred adding new rides rather than concentrated participants, capping the first two events at 300 and 100 entrants, respectively. Both are currently full, but registration is still open for the shortest route.
“We want to maintain control of the event,” explains Cusenbary. “We want it to be small and enjoyable for all those participating.”
And for those that have already missed out on this year, there’s always 2011…where Cusenbary will be happy to ride alongside.
“Not this year, but I’m working on next year,” he says Cusenbary with determination. “I miss the bike. That’s the one thing I can’t do now, but I’ll be able to do it again.”
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