Sure, the Above + Beyond Cancer RAAM cycling jerseys have an impressive color scheme and overall design, but it’s what’s written on them that encouraged onlookers to strike up conversation as the team made its final preparations in the busy parking lot near the starting line of the upcoming 3,000-mile, 8-person relay bicycle race across America. The words, “Above + Beyond Cancer,” no doubt pack an emotional wallop, and they mean so much to more than just the five cancer survivors on the squad.
From onlookers who lost loved ones to the disease and felt moved to make a donation right there on the spot in the parking lot to a race official who opened up about the passing of her own daughter to brain cancer and her own battle with ovarian cancer, it’s clear that the team that embarked on an epic journey this morning is much bigger than itself.
“When you see somebody you can relate to do something more than you thought you could do yourself, it gives you hope,” said 38-year-old breast cancer survivor Sarah Russell, who is one of two females on Above + Beyond Cancer’s RAAM relay team.
For Russell, she’s been on both sides of that scenario. After her diagnosis of breast cancer in 2004, she found herself, like many survivors, struggling with her physical well-being and her overall confidence. She looked to people she could relate to, and found Above + Beyond, an organization with a belief that adversity leads to personal growth. After a grueling training schedule these past few months, she’s ready to take part in what’s been called the most strenuous bicycle race in the world.
“We’re not racers,” she said. “We’re a bunch of average Joes willing to give something bigger than ourselves a shot.”
Russell was in the parking lot when the race official began to describe the effects cancer has had on her life. Now, Russell finds herself on the other side of the inspiration in the role of provider.
These moments seem serendipitous, but when you look at the statistics, you begin to realize that it’s unlikely that any person passing by hasn’t been affected by cancer in one way or another.
“You see the connection in their eyes when they learn you’re a survivor and learn what you’re trying to do,” Russell said.
“You’re taking your ordinary life and trying to put something extraordinary in it.”