I talked with junior Andrew Mohama in May and again in September at the same spot on the second floor of the Anderson Student Center. The first time we talked involved looking forward to the promise of an incredible adventure. The second time involved his trying desperately to put into words the inspirational, emotional, world-view-altering, amazing experience it all turned out to be.
Mohama spent 70 days this summer riding a bike from Maryland to California, totaling more than 4,000 miles. Those miles were all for the profound purpose of raising awareness and funds for the Ulman Cancer Fund for Young Adults: Mohama himself raised nearly $7,000, and biking teams across the country raised more than $600,000 for UCF, which provides financial aid and programming for young adults battling cancer.
“It’s really emotional looking back on,” Mohama said. “A big reason I applied was this quote, to never underestimating the difference you can make in the life of one person. That was solidified for me this summer.”
Several family members and friends’ parents losing battles with cancers throughout his life inspired Mohama to seek this experience out. While many days were physically exhausting, Mohama and others pushed through keeping in mind the people who have fought, and are still fighting, cancer.
“Ultimately the goal was to finish as a team, remember why you’re riding. That helped us push through it physically,” he said. “When you’re in the middle of nowhere Nebraska in a 100-mile ride in blaring heat, it’s hard to keep that mindset. You’re hungry, thirsty, don’t know where the water van is. Those are the times it’s hard to remind yourselves. Look at the name on your legs; today you’re riding for that person. That person has struggled so much more than you. This is nothing.”
Each day team members would write on their legs the name of who they were riding for that day. Every morning started by each rider explaining that person’s story as they knew it, and why they were riding for them.
“Everyone could express their emotions in those dedications. Some days you would be dedicating to someone you don’t know, someone you met at a gas station who told you about their son who passed away from cancer. We’d do those things and remember that, even if we’re not closely tied to that person, they have a story that’s so unique and powerful, filled with suffering, love and passion, that it’s worth us riding for,” Mohama said. “Those dedications, taking those people with us in spirit, held a lot of power for all of us.”
Back at St. Thomas, Mohama is back in class and working toward a career in medicine. Many of the challenges he faced this summer – from riding 25 miles up Trail Ridge Road, the highest paved street in North America, to dedicating his entire summer to a cause so much bigger than himself – has created a new mindset for what he, and anyone, is capable of.
“If you’re passionate about something and truly care about it, you can accomplish anything,” he said.