Cyclist crosses nation to combat cancer


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  • At the Mississippi River in Alma, Wisconsin




  • At Logan's Pass on the Continental Divide at Glacier National Park in Montana




  • At a stream in Montana



BY MEGHAN BYERS

– Stephanie Verwys, former Sparta resident and a graduate of Sparta High School, embarked this May on a cross-country bicycle ride to raise money for the cancer charity Supportersize.

Beginning her ride in Portland, Maine, and ending in Portland, Oregon this past Sunday, Verwys has traversed the Appalachian mountains, the Midwestern plains, the Mississippi river, the Rockies, and the Cascades, and gained a view of the United States that she said you just can't get from a car.

"I wanted to explore the back roads and small towns," Verwys explained in a phone interview. "When you're on a bike, it's easy to stop and talk to people and see things at a slower pace."

That slower pace also allowed her to experience unexpected kindness from strangers along the way.

"The wonderful thing about biking is that every day brings new people you would never meet in a car," Verwys said. "Every day, I would talk to someone new and hear about what they did and where they were from." Whether welcoming her to share a meal or pitch her tent at their campsite, the people she met along her journey were unfailingly generous. "People were always so quick to help me in whatever way they could... It was reassuring and wonderful, to see how kind everyone was along the way."

Verwys, now 25, recalls bicycling to Sparta High School as a student, saying she found it "very freeing" to have her own, easily accessible mode of transportation as a teenager. In college, she joined the cycling team and began to ride longer distances. When she moved to Brooklyn, she began to bicycle to work, which helped her prepare for her nearly 4,000-mile cross-country trip. "I rode twenty miles roundtrip to work every day in March and April, and took longer trips on the weekends," Verwys said.

It was during her work as a clinical trial research assistant at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center that Verwys met the founder of Supportersize, lung cancer survivor Yariv "Dolio" Kafri. Supportersize aims to inspire and empower cancer patients by encouraging them to incorporate exercise into their recovery. Dolio is raising funds to help develop an evidence-based exercise program for patients.

"Exercise makes you feel better physically and mentally," Verwys explained, speaking from experience. Verwys has severe rheumatoid arthritis, a chronic illness with flare-ups that can be hard to predict. However, she's learned that keeping her joints moving on her good days helps her feel better on her bad days. "It's even more motivating to get up and exercise on my good days because I know I could have a flare-up later."

Verwys's dedication to helping cancer patients doesn't stop with bicycling. Having finished her ride of 3,713 milies, she plans to fly back to Maine, where she will also return to the research field at the Maine Children's Cancer Program. "Working with cancer patients became something that was very important to me," she said, of her time spent at Sloan Kettering. "I have found a field that really is helping people, both currently and in the future."

Verwys has documented her ride on her Instagram account, @StephCycles, where there is also a link to further information on Supportersize and ways to donate.


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