published Friday, May 24th, 2013

Stephen Rucker participating in Cycle for Miracles to help hospital that saved his daughters

Stephen and Jaclyn Rucker hold daughters Annie, left, and Kate.
Stephen and Jaclyn Rucker hold daughters Annie, left, and Kate.
Photo by Angela Lewis.

IF YOU GO

* What: Volkswagen USA Cycling Professional Road and Time Trial National Championships

Saturday

* Where: Volkswagen plant, 8001 Volkswagen Drive, Chattanooga

* 8:30 a.m. -- ITT Handcycling

* 10 a.m. -- Professional Warmup

* 11 a.m. -- ITT Female Pro, 31 km

* 2 p.m. ITT Male Pro. 31 km

Monday

* Where: Start/finish on Market Street between M.L. King Boulevard and 12th Street

* 9 a.m. -- Road Race Female Pro 102 km

* 12:30 p.m. -- Handcycling Criterium National Championship

* 1:15 p.m. -- Road Race Male Pro 165 mm

CHARITY RACE

* What: Cycle for Miracles, charity race to raise money for T.C. Thompson Children's Hospital at Erlanger.

* When: 8 a.m. Saturday.

* Where: Enterprise South Industrial Park, 6075 Bonny Oaks Drive.

* Details: Open to riders of all ages and abilities with 15-, 30-, and 60-mile options through flat and scenic terrain.

* Registration and information: Visit usacycling.org.

COMING UP

Saturday

• Medical teams man the race route, just in case. A1.

• Advance coverage of Saturday's time trials, Sports.

Sunday

• Is downtown ready for such a massive race? A1.

• Time Trial results, Sports.

Monday

• Cycling fans getting geared up about the championships, A1.

Tuesday

• Live coverage of the championship races, A1.

• Race results, Sports.

When Stephen Rucker hits the road Saturday morning for a 30-mile bike ride, he has one goal in mind — to raise at least $1,000 for T.C. Thompson Children's Hospital at Erlanger, the hospital that saved the lives of his twin daughters, Kate and Annie.

"Their birthday should be in October, but they were born 14 weeks early due to complications with the pregnancy," says the 39-year-old Rucker. "They weighed 1 pound 1 ounce and 1 pound 7 ounces at birth.

"We did not get to hold the girls for almost a month, which was very difficult. As the girls' actual due date approached, we got to hold them more and more," he says.

While in the hospital, the twins underwent laser eye surgery and one of the girls had heart surgery.

"They spent 97 and 98 days in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at Children's," says Rucker, who works at Capital Bank in Fort Oglethorpe, Ga. "Without lots of prayers and the care of the doctors and nurses, my daughters might not be here today."

The bike ride, called Cycle for Miracles, debuts this year and is part of the Volkswagen USA Cycling Professional Time Trial and Road Race National Championships, which are taking place all over the Chattanooga area over the holiday weekend.

"Children's Hospital Foundation and USA Cycling worked together in creating an event that will engage local cyclists and give back to the community," says Katie Jackson, Children's Hospital Foundation development and events assistant. "We are excited to see all of our hard work come to fruition."

Jackson says Rucker's participation in the event is a testament to his experience with his daughters while at Children's.

"Most families with children that have been touched and treated ... not only remember having a wonderful experience but are willing to step up and support us," she says. "Stephen's amazing story is such a great example of the cycle of support in Chattanooga."

Rucker, a former college athlete, began cycling just a year ago.

"I played baseball through college [and] began playing golf after college," he says. "But after the twins were born, finding time to play golf was difficult. Bicycling gave me something I could do to improve my health, get my outside time and compete with myself."

And he's anxious to give back to Children's on behalf of his daughters, he says. Children's is close enough to the East Ridge home that he and his wife, Jaclyn, a registered nurse, were able to be at home each night, rather than staying at the hospital or in a hotel.

"My daughters might not have survived being transported to another city at birth, and it would have been extremely difficult to not be able to stay in our own bed at night," he says.

Rucker says the staff in Erlanger's Neonatal Intensive Care Unit became their extended family.

"We had four or five nurses that were Kate and Annie's primary nurses; they took care of the girls every time they worked," he explains. "The consistency made things easier as you got to know these nurses really well."

A little more than three months after the twins were born, Annie was the first to go home, he says. But before she could leave, the Ruckers stayed in the hospital's "care by parent room" with both girls so the parents could handle the feeding routine without help from the nurses.

"That was a long night as we got to do every three-hour feedings by ourselves," Rucker recalls. "Neither one ate very well for a long time, so by the time you finished feeding both of them, it was time to start all over."

Today the twins are doing well, their dad says.

"They are still a little small on the growth curve, but they do not have any major lingering complications," he says. "One of my daughters does have to wear glasses but, as far as major complications, there are none."

Money raised through Cycle for Miracles will go into Children's room renovation project, which is designed to make hospital stays easier on young patients, Jackson says.

"The hospital is a scary enough place as it is for kids, so we are working to create a 'home away from home' environment," she says. "We hope every child and family that visits the hospital can relax as much as possible and focus on receiving the best care."

Event organizers plan on the ride becoming an annual fundraising event.

"It will only grow and get better with every year," Jackson says. "We have tapped into the incredibly caring and community-minded cycling groups in Chattanooga. By doing so, we have met so many amazing local cyclists that are connected to Children's Hospital, and we would love to continue growing these relationships."

Contact staff writer Karen Nazor Hill at khill@times freepress.com or 423-757-6396. Follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/karennazor hill. Subscribe to her posts on Facebook at www.facebook.com/karennazorhill.

about Karen Nazor Hill...

Feature writer Karen Nazor Hill covers fashion, design, home and gardening, pets, entertainment, human interest features and more. She also is an occasional news reporter and the Town Talk columnist. She previously worked for the Catholic newspaper Tennessee Register and was a reporter at the Chattanooga Free Press from 1985 to 1999, when the newspaper merged with the Chattanooga Times. She won a Society of Professional Journalists Golden Press third-place award in feature writing for ...

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