Cyclists will gather in Channahon this Sunday for the fourth annual rideATAXIA Chicago, an event designed to create a supportive atmosphere while raising funds and awareness for the fight against Friedreich’s ataxia (FA), an inherited degenerative neuro-muscular disorder that can cause a variety of ailments, including heart conditions, diabetes, scoliosis, vision impairment, hearing loss, speech difficulties and loss of coordination and muscle strength.
Diagnosed with FA at age 17, Kyle Bryant created what has since evolved into the multi-event, nationwide rideATAXIA in 2007, when he and his father rode from San Diego to Memphis, Tennessee in 60 days. Two years later, the ride expanded to locations around the United States, eventually including the Chicago area.
“In 2009, we started building the single day rides in different locations across in the country, and Outback Steakhouse became a continued strong partner,” Bryant says. “One of the partners in Outback from the Chicago area brought his team down and rode with us in Dallas. We became friends and decided we should expand to Chicago.”
Bryant also notes the strong community of FA families in the Chicago area who have helped spread the word and do a substantial amount of fundraising helped bring the event to the Chicago area.
Even though FA makes physical activity difficult, often requiring patients to use canes, walkers or wheelchairs for mobility by the time they reach their 20s, rideATAXIA offers options for cyclists of all abilities.
“Our ride is structured to enable everyone to participate, from beginners and disabled athletes all the way up to people training for big events,” Bryant says. “In Chicago, we’ve got a two-mile loop, so really anyone can come out and ride. We’ve also got a 12-mile route, 32-mile route and 50-mile route.”
One rider at this year’s Chicago ride, 21-year-old Nicole Kramer of Villa Park, has lived with FA since she was 15. Kramer learned of rideATAXIA at FA Woodstock, a three-day event in LaPorte, Indiana for FA patients and their families. Kramer participates in the 12-mile ride with a group of family and friends that together form “Cole’s Crew” that to date has raised nearly $3,000 for the Friedreich’s Ataxia Research Foundation, the nonprofit rideATAXIA benefits.
“I really got involved with it because I do have Friedreich’s, and when they told me about the fundraiser I was excited they were doing one in the Chicago area,” Kramer says. “We don’t have too many other fundraisers in Illinois, so I was really excited.”
Kramer says that she enjoys the event, which puts the focus on fun rather than racing, in part because it gives her an opportunity to spend time with others also living with FA.
“A lot of them are from other states, so it’s nice to catch up with them and see everybody,” Kramer says. “It seems like everyone’s in a really good mood because they’re doing this fundraiser to help find a cure and do research on our disease.”
“The overall theme of the ride I always come back to is it’s a platform for FA patients to be proud of what they can do instead of ashamed of what they can’t do,” Bryant says. “It can be really shameful and hard to talk about sometimes, but when you’re involved in a ride like this and can have something to be proud of to talk to your friends and family, it’s a really catalyst for good things.”
rideATAXIA Chicago starts and ends at Channahon Central Park (24846 W. Eames St.). Both the 32- and 50-mile routes feature fully supported rest stops on the course, and all participants can enjoy a post-ride party with food from Outback Steakhouse, Carrabba’s Italian Grill and Bonefish Grill.
To learn more about rideATAXIA, visit rideataxia.org.