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By Donna Cipolloni

Tester staff writer

When Harold George first heard about the Sept. 13-14 Ride to Conquer Cancer (RTCC), he decided to do it in memory of his sister, who lost her life to the disease two years ago, at age 55; his age now.

“She had Stage 4, but they didn’t find it; they’d been treating her for migraines for years,” said George, a NAVAIR employee. “One day her headache was so bad, she vomited. Her daughter took her to the hospital and she never left.”

RTCC is a two-day, 150-mile cycling fundraiser to benefit Johns Hopkins’ Kimmel Cancer Center, Sibley Memorial Hospital and Suburban Hospital. Passing through Maryland, Virginia and Washington, D.C., riders will weave their way through the Capitol region’s scenic landscape for a challenging 75 miles each day.

“I haven’t cycled since I was a kid,” George said, “but when I saw the ad for the ride, I figured I could probably limp my way through it. So here I am.”

First, George bought a bike; a crosstown model with wide tires.

“It’s a steel bike; heavier and more sturdy,” he explained. “No skinny tires. The skinny ones are for the young people who go flying past me when I ride.”

And he does ride — four days a week, covering 12-15 miles per day weekdays; and 25-35 miles per day weekends.

“When I started back in May, I couldn’t make it to the end of my street before I had to get off and push,” he said. “Then I was able to make it through my housing development, then down Hermanville Road. That went on until now, when I can go at least 15 miles without stopping.”

George, a retired Navy ordnanceman, plans to bring a few bottles of water and maybe an energy bar or two to sustain him in between the comfort stations the ride’s organizers will have set up along the route.

“There are stops with food every 15 miles or so, there’s water and volunteers all along the way, and we are expected to stop for lunch,” he said. “It’s important to remember this isn’t a race. It might take me a while, but I’ll finish.”

A healthy side benefit of George’s decision to ride has been the weight loss and increased energy that have accompanied his training.

“I feel a lot better and I’m more active,” he said. “On a ride day, I’ll go out before eating dinner and will ride about an hour and a half. If I’m not riding, I’ll mow the lawn or work outside on my deck project. I have more energy now, and I never again want to feel the way I used to feel.”

Each RTTC cyclist is expected to raise $2,500 in order to participate and George’s donations topped that mark over the Labor Day weekend. Currently, there are about 1,600 cyclists registered for the event.

“I’m hoping my donations will continue climbing,” he said. “With the money raised going straight to the cancer hospitals, I think it’s being well used.

According to the RTTC website, one in two men and one in three women will be diagnosed with cancer in his or her lifetime. There are 13.7 million cancer survivors in the U.S. today, and the number will grow to 22 million by 2020.

For more information on the local RTTC, visit ridetovictory.org and click on Baltimore/D.C.