Chapel Hill News

Pedal for Peds helps patients, families weather the storm

The brave participants in the outdoor bike ride on Saturday included Logan Cerwin (at far right) followed by Alex Werden, who was a patient at the Pediatric Hematology Oncology Division of UNC Lineberger)
The brave participants in the outdoor bike ride on Saturday included Logan Cerwin (at far right) followed by Alex Werden, who was a patient at the Pediatric Hematology Oncology Division of UNC Lineberger)

About a dozen cyclists headed out for a ride from the UNC Wellness Center in Cary directly into the brunt of Hurricane Matthew this past Saturday morning. In doing so, and to honor and raise funds for the UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center’s Division of Pediatric Hematology Oncology, many of the participants in the annual Pedal for Peds bike ride fundraiser braved driving rain and a 40-plus mile-per-hour headwind.

And yet, the seemingly-insurmountable elements cyclists faced Saturday were trivial set against the flood of challenges faced by the Division’s pediatric patients and their families.

“Headwind is nothing,” said Julie Blatt, a doctor with Pediatric Hematology Oncology and founder of the Pedal for Peds series. “It’s a good metaphor (for fighting cancer), but a little headwind? That’s nothing.”

Blatt pointed out the expenses and dizzying details faced by their patients and families dealing with a cancer diagnosis include trips to Chapel Hill for treatment, groceries, meals, fuel costs, and sometimes, sadly, funeral expenses.

“The demands of treatment are overwhelming,” Blatt added, “and many are expenses we have no control over.”

While riders set off on a ride of up to 50 miles along the American Tobacco Trail to honor and celebrate both cancer survivors and those who have lost battles, even more pedaled indoors in a UNC Wellness Center spin class.

According to the Pedal for Peds website (, all proceeds raised by the event support care for and the mission to cure all children with cancer and blood disorders in North Carolina.

Opting for the outdoor ride was Chapel Hill High alum and current West Point U.S. Military Academy student Alex Werden, who was once a patient himself.

“I was diagnosed in July of 2014,” Werden pointed out, “but I’ve had clear scans for a year and a half now, and there’s an 80% success rate across the country. UNC is leading the way with groundbreaking research and patient care.”

In addition to the road ride and hourly stationary bicycle spin classes, the family-friendly festivities also included a yoga session with instructor Cammie Presler, snacks, and a balloon release to honor cancer patients.

Pediatric Oncology Psychosocial Support Program Coordinator Stephanie Mazze was pleased with the turnout.

“We had 104 registered, even if not all are here riding today,” Mazze said, “But considering the weather, we really had some troopers who showed up and were still excited to go outside today. Also, we also have a few that did virtual rides — maybe they had nicer weather, and they were riding wherever they were.”

“We were hoping to raise $100,000 this year,” Blatt said, “and we’ll probably make more like $60,000, but that’s still $10,000 more than we’ve made in the past. Most of it is from the event, but some donate before this event with no intention of riding. Pharmaceutical (corporations) also provide some money — a number of them have been quite generous, and we’re quite grateful.”

Patrick Thompson, M.D., who is the Division’s fellowship chairman, pointed out that the event was also great for the Division’s staff of caregivers.

“This refreshes the spirit,” said Thompson, who was among the road ride cyclists. “It’s empowering and rejuvenating.”

“We also have other events, and many of these folks work on those other things too,” Blatt said, “but this is one of our premier events.”

Blatt added that the need for funding goes on, however.

“If people want to donate, they can give us one cent or they can donate $100,000,” she said. “If people have things they want to give to specifically within our mission, they can tell us and we’ll do our best to honor that.”

Blatt encouraged those interested to visit the Pedal for Peds website or email her at with any questions. To donate by mail, checks should be made payable to: UNC Lineberger (withPedal for Peds” written on the memo line) and sent to UNC Lineberger (Attention: Julie Blatt, MD), 170 Manning Drive, POB 1185A, CB7236, Chapel Hill, NC 27599-7236.

With an annual fall date, Blatt said the event will always run the risk of running headlong into Hurricane Season.

“We always know that’s a risk,” she said. “We could just to the indoor (cycling), but a lot of people like the bike ride.”

Then again, in the stormy fight against cancer, what’s a little rain and wind?