Sports  4,000 miles for change

McGill student Allison Gilmartin prepares for a transcontinental bike ride in support of cancer research

As we approach the time of year when most students are busy scrambling for a summer job or internship, McGill student Allison Gilmartin is spending her time differently – training and fundraising for a 4,000-mile (around 6,500 kilometre) bike ride that will take her across the United States in support of cancer research. As part of a university based initiative called 4K for Cancer, she will be one of ninety students giving up two months of their summer for the long distance bike ride, in an effort to unite communities and foster hope in the lives of those touched by cancer.

A former member of McGill’s rowing team and an active philanthropist both in her sorority and in her home town of New York City, Gilmartin found herself immediately attracted to the idea of a major athletic event for charity. “The combination of community service, philanthropy and something active: that’s the perfect marriage of activities for me,” she told The Daily in an interview. “It wasn’t so much the cycling that attracted me, it was the nice combination.”

4K for Cancer began in the fall of 2001, when a group of five undergraduate students from Johns Hopkins University decided to realize their dreams of cycling across the country while fighting to raise money for cancer research. It took seven years for 4K to become an established non-profit organization, and it has continued to grow and expand ever since. With three separate rides comprising thirty riders each, 4K will raise at least $400,000 this year, with this money going directly toward testing and cancer research initiatives.

Gilmartin’s adventure will start on the East Coast in Maryland and take her all the way to Portland, Oregon. Along the way she and other participants will be staying in dorms, community centres, and camping in national parks. All of their accommodations and even their state-of-the-art long distance bikes will be provided through donations. “I’m excited to meet the people and to see the places I’m going to see,” said Gilmartin. “We’re biking through the Rocky Mountains, sleeping in Yellowstone Park…and we’re going to see things that you wouldn’t notice if you were in a car or bus.”

More than just a transcontinental ride for charity, the athletes will be spreading awareness as they undertake one of the greatest physical challenges of their lives. Riders will be stopping in various towns en route to visit cancer patients, hospitals, and cancer centres in an effort to spread hope and gain inspiration for their challenge. They will also be hosting presentations, offering cancer screenings, and helping communities in need to spread awareness and support in the struggle against cancer.

Gilmartin has been preparing for the challenge since January by training physically, spreading awareness, and gathering donations. Having already raised $1,400, she has come to understand that one of the most difficult parts of the enterprise is spreading the word about what she is trying to do. Having already made efforts to spread the cause online and by word of mouth, she also plans on organizing an event in the near future at a local bar in order to get more students involved, and to discuss the issue.

Though raising money is a challenge on its own, perhaps the most difficult part of preparing for the 4,000-mile cycle is physically getting in shape. Personal trainer and McGill basketball coach Andrew Barr explained to The Daily what someone would have to do to prepare for such a feat of endurance. “Throughout training and the event the athlete would need to be getting regular manual therapy and work on flexibility and mobility while trying to manage joint pain and inflammation,” said Barr. “A massive increase in caloric intake would be required during her training, between five and ten thousand calories a day. Because of the stress on your body, you would need elevated levels of all vitamins and minerals to ensure optimal immune function. Water intake would also have to increase drastically – as high as ten litres a day.” Gilmartin explains that she has been preparing by logging hours on the bike daily, doing yoga three times a week, and boxing.

Like many people, Gilmartin’s life has been heavily impacted by cancer, with three grandparents and an aunt having already passed away from the disease. “This is all for research, so at this point, what I’m doing is for me, my sisters, my friends, anybody…so I feel like it’s something I have to do,” said Gilmartin. “What was really attractive to me was that it’s just cancer research – not just prostate, not just breast cancer – so it’s something that everyone can associate with on some level.”

If you’re interested in donating to Allison or 4K for Cancer you can access her donation page at, or visit You can also keep track of the cycling team’s progress online, where they will be updating their blogs regularly.