Twenty-nine of the 88 young adults cycling across America to raise money to fight cancer stopped in Chattanooga last Friday as part of their 70-day trip to San Francisco.
First Cumberland Presbyterian Church provided the riders sleeping space, meals and a swimming pool for relief from the near-90 temperatures.
The 88 all started May 27 in Baltimore. They left in three groups; the others will wind up in Portland, Ore., or Seattle.
The riders are supporting the 11th annual "4K for Cancer" by raising funds and awareness. The donations they inspire will go to the Ulman Cancer Fund for Young Adults.
In select cities on the roughly 4,000-mile journey, the riders donate their time to local cancer communities. Some write the names of patients on the calves of their legs to remember them as they ride.
"As of today, the 4K for Cancer riders have raised over $500,000," Vince Schiano, a 20-year-old rider from Rochester, N.Y., told about 75 children at the local church.
The children, part of First Cumberland's "DayPlayer Program," helped greet Team San Fran in the church's parking lot.
"This is the first time we have ever had a welcoming committee," Schiano said. "I'm not an emotional guy, but this brought tears to my eyes when I saw all those children."
The group spent Thursday night at First Baptist Church in Dayton and Saturday night in Tullahoma. Nashville was Sunday's stop.
Each rider has committed to raising $4,500 in donations to help the UCF Patient Navigation programs. Those offer comprehensive health services to young adult cancer patients, working in conjunction with multidisciplinary medical care teams, social work staff and other care providers, according to a 4K for Cancer news release.
Sarah Ouattrochi, a First Cumberland member and a coordinator for Friday's stopover, said Lauren Schoener from Team San Fran called a few weeks ago seeking a church that could provide overnight accommodations.
"I was thrilled when First Cumberland began discussing the possibility of housing Team San Fran as they pass through Chattanooga," Quattrochi said.
"This program is a unique way to raise awareness and funding for such an important cause. Cancer is an awful, pervasive disease that touches so many. What I love about 4K's mission is that it gives people the venue to do something, a way to fight back with love, determination and generosity. This is the type of organization that brings out the best in people and builds community."
The riders usually pedal 70-75 miles a day. Some days have covered as few as 40, but a 130-mile day is planned near the end, Schiano said.
Two vans sporting the logo "4000 miles, 70 days, 1 Fight" carry their clothes, sleeping gear, extra water and spare bicycle parts.
Rider Lauren Schoener said she and the others started at "different levels" of experience and conditioning.
"Only a couple of our riders were serious riders before this trip. However, riding 10 miles a day and riding 70 miles a day are a lot different," said the 19-year-old from Severna Park, Md.
"It requires a strong heart and perseverance to work through it all. Some of us are in tears," Schiano said, making a connection to cancer patients in that regard.
"The first two weeks of riding were the hardest," he said.
Chris Marie, a 25-year-old from South Africa, said her fitness level has increased along the way.
"I've gained four pounds," said Marie, who thought she would lose weight but added muscle instead. "We usually start our day around 5 [a.m.] and are on the road by 6. We usually stop around 4 [p.m.]."
Online contributions can be made at www.4kforcancer.org/donate.