The Ride to Rosemary fundraiser for West Cancer Center started thirteen years ago as a therapeutic bike challenge for a group of nine friends. Today, the ride has grown to nearly 70 men with a brotherhood bond that carries through their day-to-day life, on and off their bikes.
In 2010, Chuck Bolton was going through a hard time and struggling with his mental health. He decided to ride his bike from Memphis to Rosemary Beach, Florida, as a mental and physical challenge to help him unplug and find inner peace. While he initially planned to make the trek alone, a group of friends that had become Chuck’s support system chose to join him on the 525-mile journey. This first ride set the groundwork for what is now synonymous with the Ride to Rosemary group — a physical challenge, yes, but more importantly, a brotherhood rooted in love, support, and friendship that far surpasses the five-day bike ride.
As Chuck puts it, “Facing a dark or difficult time in life is an invitation for us all to come together and lean on each other. When someone chooses to walk with you through hardship, that is genuine love.”
Todd Tillmans, one of the founding riders, fondly remembers the decision to bike 500+ miles from Memphis to Florida. “It sounded like a crazy idea initially, but we quickly realized we were all in. For many of us, cycling had become an outlet to release stress and replace some bad habits, so embarking on this challenge together sounded cathartic.”
Soon after deciding to ride, Chuck and his friends decided to deepen the purpose of their ride by using it as a fundraising opportunity for West Cancer Center. Each of the founding riders knew someone affected by cancer in some way, so this cause meant a lot to each of them. “What we care about is that these patients know they matter, and we hope that the awareness and money brought in from our ride helps,” Chuck says.
Through their fundraising, which remains a driving factor of the ride, the men continue to raise money for patients who can’t afford treatment, screening, hair prostheses, or other necessary expenses that follow a cancer diagnosis.
At year 13 of the ride, the number of riders has grown from nine to nearly 70, a group of men with different skill levels, backgrounds, and ages, all with the common goal of loving, listening, and being healthier. Every racing team from Memphis is represented, and though new members are introduced each year, the purpose remains constant. A common mantra for the Rosemary ride is that though the ride may break you physically, you will become open spiritually.
Luke Hooper joined Ride to Rosemary in 2017, the youngest rider to join at that time. As a younger participant, he appreciates the advice and mentorship of his fellow riders. “It can be hard as men to find encouragement to open up and be vulnerable, but that is not the case with this group. Having uninterrupted time to talk with other men who have been through similar challenges has helped give me perspective and guidance when I need it,” Luke explains.
In turn, Chuck reflects, “It is always good to see young men like Luke growing each year, taking on leadership, bringing new guys in, and carrying on that spirit of brotherhood.” While the founders agree they will retire from the Rosemary ride eventually, they are glad to know that the younger riders will carry on the ride and its message.
To train for the ride, the men participate in regular group rides, which increase in distance as the Rosemary trip grows closer. Additionally, they host a monthly “Faith Walk,” where the men come together to talk and catch up.
Chuck says, “The ride is important, but the relationships are constant, and the support system is there no matter what.” Chuck, Todd, and Luke agree that they would not be the men they are today without the Ride to Rosemary.
If you want to donate to West Cancer Center to support the Ride to Rosemary, visit Westcancerfoundation.org/r2r.
By Zoe Harrison
Photo by D’Angelo Connell