Michael Hernandez used to be 30 pounds heavier and smoked every day.
But as a volunteer photographer for the Susan G. Komen foundation, he realized that he had to change his habits to protect himself from getting cancer. So he quit smoking and got himself in shape for the 24 Hours of Booty charity cycling event.
Hernandez biked 63 miles last year. He hopes to reach 100 miles this weekend.
In 2003, Spencer Lueders started the event as a way to honor those who have died from or are fighting cancer. He was inspired to bike around the 2.84-mile Booty Loop in Myers Park for 24 hours.
In that first year, 100 cyclists rode around the loop and raised $30,000. The event is currently capped at 1,200 cyclists who commit to raise at least $400. About 10 percent of the cyclists are cancer survivors.
Last year, 24 Hours of Booty raised $1.3 million, surpassing its $1.2 million goal.
This year, the organization hopes to raise $1.4 million for the Levine Cancer Institute’s Survivorship program, the Livestrong Foundation, the Brain Tumor Fund for the Carolinas and Wind River Retreats. As of Thursday, donations for the event were over $1.25 million.
Lueders said the stories of people affected by cancer have brought the event to life.
Patti Weiss wanted to start riding her bike after going through surgeries, chemotherapy and radiation for breast cancer in 2001. Walking past her neighbor’s mailbox was a challenge for her when she finished treatment, but she gradually got herself in shape to ride a bike.
Weiss, who was the first executive director of 24 Hours of Booty when it became a nonprofit, said the program’s energy helped with her recovery.
As more people have participated in the event, its impact has grown.
Carolinas Cancer Wellness Program, which helps people stay healthy through cancer treatment and recovery, is completely funded by 24 Hours of Booty.
This year, Hernandez photographed Susan Sullivan through surgeries and radiation treatments for breast cancer and through her experience at CCWP.
Sullivan was a little uncomfortable at first, but she decided that it was important to tell her story to spread the word about CCWP and 24 Hours of Booty.
“Radiation was more painful and debilitating than I had imagined it would be,” Sullivan said. “The program really helped me get through a very tough time in my life.”
Sullivan is now cancer-free and will be volunteering with Hernandez at this year’s event.
Hernandez joined Team Reeb, which set a $50,000 goal. As of Wednesday, the team had more than $62,000.
But Hernandez also set a personal goal of $7,000 on his own and he promised to shave his head bald if he reached it.
Hernandez has exceeded this goal, raising $8,400.
He is keeping his promise and will let Sullivan shave his head at the event.
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