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Sit down, pedal and fight back

Last July, Josh Jones didn’t know whether he would be able to participate in 24 Hours of Booty – an all-night cycling and fundraising event that benefits cancer research.

Jones had spent months leading a team that had raised thousands of dollars. But his 3-year-old daughter, Libby, was in the hospital, diagnosed with leukemia and awaiting a bone marrow transplant, and he wasn’t sure whether he could leave her bedside.

However, after Libby fell asleep, Jones decided to go to the Myers Park event for a few hours, joining more than 1,000 people who had raised over $1 million to fight the very disease that Libby was battling.

“It just felt like the right thing to do,” Jones said.

Libby died May 8, still just 3. But this Friday, Jones will ride in 24 Hours of Booty again – and this year, he is the event’s top individual fundraiser, with more than $30,000 that will benefit the Levine Cancer Institute and other groups.

“You get knocked down really hard. Some people don’t want to be a part of the fight at all, and that’s OK. Everybody copes differently,” Jones said. “But the way I choose to cope is fighting back like this.”

Besides her dad, Libby left behind her mom, Barb, and 18-month-old brother Will.

But she touched the lives of many beyond her family, and this weekend, Jones will bike to keep her memory alive.

“She connected a lot of worlds in a short time,” Jones said.

As he bikes this Friday, he will think of his daughter, but also of the people who he and Barb met during Libby’s journey – the children she befriended at Levine Children’s Hospital, their parents and the doctors and nurses.

“This year it has an additional meaning to me to participate,” Jones said.

There are 30 other members of Team LibStrong – named after Libby in the style of cancer group LiveStrong, one of the beneficiaries of 24 Hours of Booty. Together, they have raised almost $80,000. In total, this year’s 24 Hours of Booty will collect $1.3 million for cancer research.

Called 24 Hours of Booty because it takes place on the “Booty Loop,” near Myers Park Traditional School , the event was first held in 2002. Founded by Spencer Lueders, a local attorney and avid cyclist, the event has since spread to other cities and raised more than $12 million.

“It blows me away,” Lueders said. “It’s such a testament to what it means to the riders and the energy they have.”

Lueders noted that one of the most satisfying aspects of the project is being able to see direct changes in the community from 24 Hours of Booty – equipment and treatment programs that have been made possible from the funds the cyclists raise each year.

“It’s very tangible and direct and gratifying,” he said.

The organization was a source of support throughout Libby’s fight, Jones said. Not only was 24 Hours of Booty responsible for funding some of the facilities at Levine that provided her treatments, employees sent her handwritten cards and small gifts throughout the year.

“That went a long way,” Jones said. “It showed that it wasn’t just about that one day or that one event, it’s about fighting cancer through the whole year.”

Barb and Josh talk about Libby every day, and they’ve taught younger brother Will to recognize her picture. It’s a privilege to tell Libby’s story, though it can be difficult, Jones said. And biking this weekend will be another way to share her message.

“A huge part of the way I feel with what Libby had to go through and losing Libby is that I want to help fight back,” Jones said. “I got knocked down, and I’m going to stand up and fight.”