By: Kerry Ingram, Arts & Life Editor
Featured image courtesy of Andre Nguyen
For many, bike riding is seen as a leisurely activity done for enjoyment, exercise or as a pure means of transportation. For Andre Nguyen, however, bike riding is his ticket to helping end the battle against cancer.
Nguyen, a Maryland native and Towson University graduate, will be participating in 4K for Cancer this summer, a program of the Ulman Foundation that helps raise money to fund services and support for cancer patients. The foundation was started in 1997, after founder, Doug Ulman, was diagnosed with chondrosarcoma, a malignant tumor located on a rib in his back, when he was just 19 years old. The Ulman Foundation was founded as a way to provide support and information to young adults going through similar experiences.
4K for Cancer started just five years later, when a group of Johns Hopkins University students opted to combine their support for fighting cancer with their love for cycling. The program began as an annual summer bike ride from Baltimore to San Francisco, but has since grown into an entire nonprofit organizational movement that allows for multiple rides with different end destinations to take place each year.
The Ulman Foundation acquired 4K for Cancer in 2011, and the program has since raised over $7 million in support of the fight against cancer.
“The 4K enables college-age individuals to not only connect with like-minded individuals from all across the country, but also enables them to create a community of support and inspiration for those impacted by cancer,” said Parker Gray, one of the coordinators of the program. “Last year, our 4K teams raised a total of $900,000, with 87 percent of those funds going towards our different programs and services that are provided to young adults going through or impacted by cancer.”
Some of the services provided to patients include patient navigation, financial support for fertility preservation, college scholarships and Ulman housing, where patients can stay for free during their treatment at a local hospital.
Nguyen was first introduced to 4K for Cancer during his time at Towson. He served as a founder for TU’s Theta Chi fraternity in 2012, in which some of his fellow brothers spoke on having participated in the program.
“It never occurred to me embark on this ride,” Nguyen said. “I didn’t think I was capable of such a feat. However, I’m at an age where I’ve reflected a lot on my past, and I have family issues that haven’t been resolved.”
Nguyen had been directly affected by cancer prior to college, when his grandmother was diagnosed with stage 4 breast cancer. She lived states away, and his only opportunity to visit consisted of seeing her bedridden and unwell. She suffered from a stroke and passed in 2013, her life being the one Nguyen ultimately chose to honor with his decision to participate in the 4K for Cancer program.
“Due to the distance, I wasn’t there for my grandmother during her treatment, but my care and consideration shouldn’t finish there,” Nguyen said. “I need to pay it forward and do what I can for those families fighting cancer right now. It’s the least I can do.”
This idea of “paying forward” is something Gray expressed was the underlying purpose behind 4K for Cancer.
“The ultimate goal for 4K for Cancer is to create a community of support and awareness for young adults impacted by cancer,” Gray said. “The 4K aims to spread the Ulman Foundation’s mission and work, while also allowing college-age students to visit and serve those going through cancer as they visit different hospitals and cancer centers throughout their trip.”
Gray noted that her time in college helped influence her outlook enough to join 4K for Cancer. She began as a rider during her junior year, traveling across the country to Seattle, before eventually signing on to be part of the coordinating team.
Nguyen’s time at Towson University was eye-opening enough to impact his 4K for Cancer decision. Originally planning to attend TU for a marketing degree, Nguyen switched his major to Interdisciplinary Studies in Animal Behavior after failing an exam in an intro course for economics. The switch led to him living his dream path of traveling and conducting ornithology (the study of birds) research.
It also allowed him to find what he’s truly good at, and despite his early college struggles, Nguyen now has plans to attend the University of Hawaii for his masters in the fall. He stressed the importance of keeping your end goals in mind and to always choose to do what you value.
“Follow your dreams,” Nguyen said. “We live in a world full of escalating expectations. My family expected me to get A’s in school, to work for the government, to do this and to do that… my advice though? Pursue something that excites you. We live one life. Don’t let your happiness be controlled by someone else.”
For Nguyen, his pursuit includes his upcoming 4K for Cancer journey. Already more than halfway past his goal, he plans to raise at least $5,000 to go toward cancer research. Nguyen will continue to fundraise from April 1 through 7, where he will match every dollar donated with one mile for him to ride.
Supporters can help Nguyen reach his goal by donating to https://ulman.z2systems.com/andre-nguyen .