With very limited cycling experience, Keri Blair, 41, decided to go for it. She applied to ride in a 3,000-mile cross-country cycling relay event to honor her late mother, Darlene, who was diagnosed with cancer in 1999 and died just eight months later.
Keri remembers that her mother always relied on her faith and was a positive influence in her life, teaching that through valleys and challenges, there is always hope.
“That’s the life lesson she taught me— to persevere and make the best out of every situation. My goal is to teach my daughter those things, not through my words but through my actions,” Keri says.
To apply for the team, Keri wrote an essay explaining why she wanted to be one of 220 hand-picked Bristol Myers Squibb’s employees to ride in their Coast 2 Coast 4 Cancer relay from Cannon Beach, Oregon to Long Branch, New Jersey.
“To honor my mom through it all and push myself to do something that makes me uncomfortable,” she said in her essay. “It would also be an honor to show my daughter that legacy through riding and trying to do something different than I’ve ever done.”
Keri became a member of an 11-person team, the Breakthrough Riders, that would ride their leg of the race together. Next, Keri had to learn to ride.
“I had never been on a road bike in my entire life,” she laughs. “I’ll never forget the first time I clipped in [to the pedals], I completely fell over in the yard.”
After giving her husband Brad and 8-year old daughter Aubrey a good laugh, she rode 8–10 miles. Her distance increased with each ride with the help of a coach and an app to log her progress.
“I joined the Memphis Hightailers because I needed to get used to training with a group,” she explains. “I was so apprehensive, nervous, and intimidated. Once I got in, everyone was so nice and made me feel so comfortable.”
With the names of friends and relatives she was riding for on the back of her jersey, Keri felt ready by the time Sept. 23 rolled around.
In Kansas City, the Breakthrough Riders received the “baton”—a jar of water and sand collected by the first team that started at the Pacific Ocean. They carried it 230 miles to Indianapolis to hand it off to the next team. As she cycled through three states, Keri found herself on a spiritual journey that kept her going when it got hard.
“I kept thinking about my mom. If she could survive what she survived for as long as she did, I can get on this bike and hurt for a little bit,” she recalls.
“Push yourself to the limit and prove it to yourself, not anyone else.”
Keri remembered a conversation from her mom’s final days. Her mom insisted she finish college on time. In spite of missing classes and professors telling her it would be nearly impossible, Keri became the first person in her family to graduate with a four-year degree.
Keri’s team finished their leg of the race on Sept. 26, and she’s already looking forward to what’s next. She plans to take one year off from the Coast 2 Coast 4 Cancer but knows this year won’t be her last. “I want to do a different segment—Montana or Colorado,” she says.
On this journey, Keri says she’s most thankful for her husband. “He was so supportive. He always encouraged me and never made me feel like I was missing out or dropping the ball at home. He was my coach, my cheerleader, my biggest supporter.”
Starting out, Keri hoped to honor her mom while setting an example for her daughter. When it was all over, she realized she had done so much more. “I had no idea it was going to create this passion for cycling!” Keri says.
Together, the Coast 2 Coast 4 Cancer teams raised more than $2 million for the V Foundation for Cancer Research.
By Kelsey J. Lawrence
Photo by Tindall Stephens