Gacke completes 70-day, 4,000-mile cross-country bike fundraising event
Marco Gacke recently experienced a trip of a lifetime, and next summer he wants to pedal cross the country again.
Gacke was selected to the Ulman Cancer Fund for Youth Adult’s “4K For Cancer” team last fall in preparation for this summer’s event.
He and 26 other teammates pedaled more than 4,000 miles over 70 days from Baltimore, Maryland, to Seattle, Washington.
His team raised $196,000, the top fundraisers of this year’s event.
The event began on Sunday, June 3, with a ceremonious dip of the bicycles’ back tires in the Atlantic Ocean.
The gesture is an image for good luck and safe travel.
“Hopefully it’s not to look back,” Gacke said. “Keep your eyes focused and always look forward and keep your focus ahead.”
He dipped his bike’s front tire in the Pacific Ocean on Saturday, Aug. 11.
The 4,000 miles between oceans left Gacke surprised and charged to bike the trip again in 2019.
“You truly find out there are a lot of good people out there,” he said.
Bikers rode in teams of six and averaged 75 miles a day. Every seventh day his team would have a day off and ride in the support vehicle.
They were responsible for arranging meals and snacks along each stop with predestined evening stays in homes, churches, schools or campgrounds.
Gacke discovered as he talked with people that each one relayed stories about how they or a family member was impacted by cancer.
“I lost an aunt to cancer when she was only a kid and I have had other family members battle and survive cancer,” he said.
Gacke met up with family members on Day 32 of the trek as the group was making its way across Minnesota. His family served meals during the stop in Morris on July 4.
“It was good to see them,” he said.
As a kid, Gacke rode bike as a means of transportation growing up on an acreage south of Luverne. The son of Tony and Wendy Gacke continued biking as an activity after he left home, sparked by a college friend who introduced him to mountain biking.
The Luverne High School graduate is a senior at Southwest Minnesota State University in Marshall, where he rides road and mountain bikes regularly.
“I usually don’t miss a day,” Gacke said.
The daily rides built Gacke’s endurance and he didn't experience the early trek’s aches and pains like the 22 first-time bikers on his team.
However, the weather and terrain proved hard for everyone including Gacke.
During the 110-degree temperatures, daylong rains or steep mountain climbs, Gacke’s thoughts would drift to his sister, Daniella, who died from suicide last year at 13.
“On tough days I would think about her,” he said. “I found motivation in remembering her singing and laughing.”
He said his sister’s death made him realize life is short and that he should seize opportunities as they arise and set challenges.
When the Facebook post about the Ulman 4K For Cancer ride popped on his computer screen, Gacke took a closer look.
“In hindsight I didn’t want to think I should have done it and didn’t,” he said.
The ride is open to adults ages 18 to 25. Gacke was 24 when he saw the social media post.
Last October he completed the application.
His was one of 700 who were interested in participating in the fundraiser. Organizers chose only 10 percent to complete the ride.
Gacke pored over his answers to the essay questions that asked about his connection to cancer and ways he has helped people.
“I hoped I did well enough,” he said. “I wanted to stand out from everybody else.”
If organizers didn’t select Gacke from his essay questions, a 45-minute phone interview was where he showed his enthusiasm.
One or both sealed his place on this year’s team.
During the ride, members developed a family-like bond. After the ride, Gacke stays in touch with daily messages to at least a half dozen of the members.
Participants each received a bike to ride on the route and after reaching Seattle the bike was theirs to keep.
Gacke said he won’t ride his bike again and placed it in storage. He plans to hang the stainless steel Jamis on the wall of his future home.
He wants to tell his children and grandchildren about the year he spent biking across the country and to remember one special message.
“If you believe in yourself, you can achieve anything,” he said.
Gacke is applying for another 4K for Cancer again next summer.
In the meantime he is letting the current experience sink in.
“I still don’t believe I biked across the country,” he said.
About Ulman Cancer Fund for Young Adults
The Ulman Cancer Fund is able to provide free services and resources to the young adults ages 15 to 39 affected by cancer.
Young adults face a variety of unique challenges with a cancer diagnosis including fertility preservation, lack of insurance and social isolation.
Ulman operates a 12-week program designed to reintroduce cancer survivors to physical activity called Cancer to 5K, free housing to cancer patients and their caregivers in East Baltimore and scholarships to help young adults continue their education after being affected by cancer.
The 4K for Cancer annual event generates money and awareness for Ulman Cancer Fund.
In 2018 more than $900,000 was raised.