By Rachel Bush, Rabeea Tahir, and Ingrid Vasquez
For most Texas 4000 riders, the inspiration to make the journey from Austin to Anchorage comes from second hand experience with cancer. For Bucky Ribbeck, it comes from his personal struggle with the disease.
“I chose to participate in Texas 4000 because it gave me the ability to show the fighters that there was something we could do with our lives after cancer,” Ribbeck said. “It allowed me to contribute to the community that saved my life.”
Ribbeck was diagnosed with Ewing’s Sarcoma as a junior in high school after suffering a sudden severe pain in his arm during baseball practice. Within a two-week window following the initial pain, Ribbeck was beginning treatment at Texas Children’s Hospital in Houston. While a patient on the ninth floor of the hospital, Ribbeck met and befriended Natalia Lopez, a fellow cancer patient receiving treatment.
“We would hang out in each others’ rooms to pass the time, playing pranks on nurses and doctors and talking about life outside of the hospital,” Ribbeck said. “She wanted to come back to TCH as a nurse once she finished treatment and help the kids who were in her shoes.”
Lopez passed away on Oct. 28, 2009 and while Ribbeck recalls it as one of the worst days of his life, he keeps a part of his fallen friend with him at all times.
“I wear a pink wristband every day that reads, ‘WWND,’ What Would Natalia Do? In every decision I make and every road I take, she is there to guide me,” Ribbeck said. “Natalia taught me how to live. She showed me that it was okay to love. The more emotions we put on reserve, the less joy we can feel. It’s only when we love with our whole hearts that we can experience the true beauty of life. I would be nowhere near the man I am today without her.”
Ribbeck received his last round of treatment in December 2009 and has been cancer-free ever since. When he arrived at UT in 2010 and learned of Texas 4000, Ribbeck knew immediately that it was a program he wanted to be a part of.
“I chose to do Texas 4000 to inspire hope in everyone I knew and everyone I would come to know who was affected by cancer,” Ribbeck said.
Because Texas 4000 is a 70-day bike ride from Austin, Texas to Anchorage, Alaska (roughly 4,000 miles), riders endure a rigorous training, working out regularly and logging 1,500 training miles the spring before the ride. Ribbeck made the ride in the summer of 2013 and for him, no amount of training could have prepared him for what the trip would truly be like.
“The physical training was one thing, but the mental training was really what could make or break a rider,” Ribbeck said. “The most challenging days were some of the best days of the ride. They left you broken and beaten at the end of the day, but that was how we liked it. We wanted to put everything we had on the road every day for those that we rode for. We would have felt like we cheated them otherwise.”
It has been almost a year since his 70-day ride to Alaska, but Ribbeck looks back on his time with Texas 4000 fondly. Ribbeck also views his experience as something that cannot be explained by words or emotions.
“There was another force at work throughout my experience. There was God, there was love, there was the memory of Natalia and my other friends who lost their battles with cancer,” Ribbeck said. “While these are certainly still things I carry with me to this day, they all were present in a much more noteable way during my experience with Texas 4000.”
Although Ribbeck’s Texas 4000 experience is over, he is still committed to fighting cancer and showing those currently battling the disease that their illness does not have to define them. He is particularly inspired by the poem “What Cancer Cannot Do” because it explains that, while cancer can do horrible things to a person physically, it cannot break the fighting spirit that Ribbeck and his friends from the ninth floor, particularly Lopez, exhibited.
Cancer is so limited…
It cannot cripple love.
It cannot shatter hope.
It cannot corrode faith.
It cannot eat away peace.
It cannot destroy confidence.
It cannot kill friendship.
It cannot shut out memories.
It cannot silence courage.
It cannot reduce eternal life.
It cannot quench the Spirit.
The Texas 4000 organization requires each of its members to raise $4,500. Below is a representation of the amount of money raised by Texas 4000 teams since 2004.