700-mile bike tour for transplant support finishes in Madison

MADISON, Wis. – Ten cyclists committed to raising awareness for a good cause ended a 700-mile journey in Madison Tuesday.

The group of cancer survivors, bone marrow donors, and hopeful transplant recipients began their ride bike ride in Chicago, then rode through Milwaukee and Door County, before arriving in Madison ten days later.

The man leading the group was 66-year-old Leukemia survivor Bob Falkenberg. He started biking with no training and fundraising for people in need of transplants just 19 months after he recovered from his own treatment.

“The treatment is really rough and it takes hard work to get back to where you were before, but I’m actually in the best condition in my entire life right now,” Falkenberg said.

Thirteen years after he beat cancer, Falkenberg partnered with Be The Match to bring in other riders committed to inspiring one another on the bike tour for the first time ever.

Be the Match is a non-profit which supports bone marrow and stem cell transplant patients and their families across the United States.

At 63, Marsha Krone from Peoria, Illinois, was one of the riders who completed the trek to Madison Tuesday.

In 2016, she was diagnosed with Myelofibrosis and learned she would need a stem cell transplant. No one in her family her family was a match.

“My transplant doctor said I had a less than one percent chance of finding a donor,” she said. “There’s 29 million people on the registry. Unfortunately, out of those 29 million people, I don’t have a match.”

UW Health bone marrow transplant doctor Natalie Callander joined the riders on the last leg of their tour from Fond du Lac to Madison.

According to Callander, patients only have a one in four chance of finding a match in their own families, so the need for more donors is high.

She also said that need is especially high for people of color because there are far fewer Black, Asian, and Latinx donors in the transplant registry.

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It’s a fact not lost on Falkenberg, and it’s one of the reasons he started the bike tour: to make sure the treatment he received would be available to others in need.

“I had 13 perfect matches on the registry,” he said. “That’s because I’m white and of European decent.”

Riders across five bike tours this year raised about $125,000, three times more than last year’s total–each was responsible for raising at least $2,500 through their own personal network.

That money will help Be The Match add more donors to the transplant registry and support patients and their families with expenses not covered by insurance—things like travel and extended stays in cities where treatment is available.

Falkenberg hopes while the bike rides this year may be over, they continue to give patients like Krone a reason to keep fighting as she continues on a much longer journey.

“When Bob asked me if I wanted to go on this ride, I thought, ‘Boy, I don’t know if I can do it but I would like the challenge, and I did it,” she said. “I feel proud that I persevered. I want to keep doing that in every part of my life.”

Be The Match is already finalizing plans for next year’s bike tours.