A little more than a year ago, Dag and Alicia Grantham were in Columbus, Ohio, biking 100 miles as part of Pelotonia, a weekend-long bike ride for cancer research. It felt more like mile 1,000 as the Granthams, both strictly neighborhood bikers, pushed themselves to make it through.

On a flat stretch that seemed to last forever, surrounded by cornfields on both sides, they approached a single pickup truck under a tent, with a man holding a sign. As each rider passed, he shouted, “Thank you for saving my wife.”

The sweat and the pain suddenly faded away. That single moment struck both Granthams so powerfully that they looked at each other and said, “Why doesn’t Augusta have something like this? Let’s do a bike ride in Augusta.”

That’s how Paceline was born.

Dag is the son of Don Grantham, former Augusta Commissioner, businessman and civic leader, and his father’s example of civil service was an inspiration. An Augusta native, Dag moved back to his hometown last year, and both he and Alicia were eager to get involved in the local community.

Augusta had all the right elements for a bike ride: The city has long played host to the Ironman 70.3, which includes a 56-mile bike ride in Augusta and surrounding areas. And like Columbus, it also boasts a cancer center. And not just any cancer center, but the state’s cancer center, where patients can receive some of the latest treatments available in the state—if not the nation.

Still, the Georgia Cancer Center is in many ways one of the city’s best-kept secrets, which became another reason to host an event. “As I started to ask around, ‘If you were diagnosed with cancer or your dad was diagnosed with cancer, where would you seek treatment?’ And not a single person said here,” said Alicia. “So we started thinking, is it because people don’t know it’s here? Or do they not know what’s going on? And I started learning more about the research that’s taking place, [that] people are coming all over the world to seek treatment here.

“This is Georgia’s cancer center…this is something that the community can rally around.”

Because “the ride,” as the Granthams initially called it, really is so much more than that. “They call it a social movement,” said Alicia. “Because it’s not just about raising money, and it’s not just about biking. It’s about the community coming together”—fundraising together, holding their own mini-events, pushing themselves to work together and help find better treatments for a disease that doesn’t discriminate.

Although the event is most definitely not “Pelotonia South,” the Granthams did reach out to the organizers of that event, for help in basing their event on that highly successful model. And president and CEO Doug Ulman was glad to help. Pelotonia partnered with the Granthams to provide them a playbook for the event, but designed specifically for Augusta.

Another key partner is the MCG Foundation, which is working closely with the Granthams on logistics and rider recruitment and will also be the philanthropic body housing the donations for the Georgia Cancer Center. “The MCG Foundation was honored to get behind this movement, and has quickly immersed its staff and board into the work of Paceline,” said Ian Mercier, MCG Foundation CEO. “Paceline’s mission and philanthropic goals resonate with the foundation as we are fully dedicated to supporting the Georgia Cancer Center, the Medical College of Georgia and Augusta University.”

This is how the event will work: Interested riders can sign up for specific lengths, each with its own fundraising goal: 25 miles is $750; 50 miles, $1,000; 75 miles, $1,250; and 100 miles, $1,500. It’s important to note that every dollar raised by individuals or teams goes directly to cancer research, with funding partners supporting any event costs.

The idea, said Dag, is for riders to push themselves, both physically on the ride as well as with their fundraising. Riders can choose one of several ways to meet their goals, from simply paying out of their own pockets, getting involved in one or more of Paceline’s own sponsored fundraising events, or getting creative by hosting one of their own mini-events. “There’s all kinds of ways to do this,” said Dag. “But the last thing we’re going to do is to say, ‘Good luck, see you in May.’ It’s all about engagement and support,” with each rider receiving a complete fundraising toolkit, complete with creative ideas for fundraising.

Those ideas could range from hosting a dinner party and inviting friends to purchase tickets to partnering with a local business to charge an additional amount for a service, with those extra monies going to your goal. “Of course, you’d also want to pack as many people into that business as possible,” said Dag.

For those who aren’t able to ride, there will also be opportunities to volunteer or to be a virtual rider and still fundraise.

For the bike ride itself—which Dag describes as the celebration of the work to raise money throughout the year—the focus will be on the experience. Dag, who grew up in Augusta, likens it to that emotional response when you walk the course at the Augusta National during the Masters Tournament. “From the opening ceremonies to to the rest stops to the route itself, it’s got to be the best we can possibly do. And that’s what we’re going to try to do,” he said.

“[Researchers who want to qualify for Paceline funding] have got to participate,” said Dag. “And when we have those Paceline-branded events, we will have researchers come—and we want them to come—and we will brand them in Paceline gear that has very bold on the back or the front, ‘Ask me about my research.’ We want the community to engage with them, to understand [that] these are the experts who live among us, who are out here solving the challenge of cancer in amazing ways…[and] it’s right here in Augusta, Georgia, at the Georgia Cancer Center.”

Choosing a name for an event of the scope and size imagined by the Granthams wasn’t an easy task. It took about 10 stakeholders, sitting in a room, sharing ideas during a workshop-style event. Marketing experts joined with fundraising professionals along with those who’d witnessed Pelotonia, including not only the Granthams but also Mike Kessler, interim vice president of development at Augusta University, who hails from Ohio and had raced in the event.

Then they began to look at bike terms. “Paceline” stood out. The term describes a formation in which riders travel in a line, one close behind the other, to conserve energy by riding in the draft of those in front, enabling the group to travel at a faster rate than any of the riders could alone. “So the idea is all of us teaming together, we’ll get to a cure faster,” said Alicia.

One question the Granthams are often asked is, “Who’s the target for this event?” “It’s everyone,” said Alicia, from elite to casual bikers as well as all ages, from teens to seniors.

Cancer, after all, affects everyone too. “Cancer—it doesn’t care. It cuts across all socioeconomic boundaries,” said Dag. “And we saw this as a way to bring the community together and work together, have fun together raising money in the fight against cancer.

“Quite often, we hear people say a relative or a friend gets ill with cancer and they just don’t know what to do, other than sympathy, they don’t know what to do to help in the fight. And we see this as an avenue to help people focus in the fight against cancer.”

Join the Movement

“Anybody can get involved,” said Alicia, from bikers and volunteers to virtual riders who simply want to fundraise. Just as important are those who can help spread the word and involve teams. To join the movement, visit www.pacelineride.org or follow Paceline on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook, @pacelineride. Paceline’s bike ride and celebration hits the road May 10 to 11, 2019, with a preview party on Friday evening and the ride itself on Saturday.

Article appears in the November/December 2018 issue of Augusta Magazine.

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