UW-Whitewater international student Dong Hoon Lee will begin a 70-day bike trek across America to raise awareness of cancer on May 27.
The non-profit organization, 4K for Cancer, is in charge of the fundraising event in which over 90 college-age people are participating. Lee’s 70-day bike journey will begin at the headquarters of 4K for Cancer in Baltimore, Md., and continue 4,500 miles to San Francisco.
Before the long trip begins, Lee must first fundraise $4,500, which amounts to one dollar raised for every mile he will bike.
“One-hundred percent of all the fundraised money goes to cancer patients and research,” Lee said.
Lee’s passion for fundraising to find a cure and raising awareness of cancer comes from a strong personal connection he has with the illness. In 2006, Lee’s mother called him from their home in South Korea to tell him she was diagnosed with thyroid cancer. Lee said the news was difficult to take, especially because he couldn’t be there for his mother since he was a high school foreign exchange student in the United States.
Shortly after Lee’s mother’s diagnosis of cancer, she had surgery. Lee said it took five years before the doctors knew for sure if the cancer was fully gone.
Lee first came to America in 2004 as a sophomore foreign exchange student at Fort Atkinson High School.
In 2007, Lee enrolled as a freshman at UW-Whitewater. However, after his freshman year, Lee had to report to the Korean Air Force for two years of service. Lee said he served as a translator between South Korean and the United States air forces.
Then, for a short time, Lee said he taught English in South Korea. It was during this time the doctors made their announcement about his mother’s cancer.
“It was really cool that I could be there when the doctors said she was in remission,” Lee said. “We are very thankful.”
Lee returned to UW-Whitewater as a sophomore for the 2011 fall semester with a major in accounting.
Dr. Meifang Xiang, Lee’s previous accounting professor, said he is an “outstanding student” who ranked in the top five students in her 140 student Accounting 244 class.
“Dong [Lee] is a good student, has a good attitude, and he’s outgoing and always smiling,” Xiang said.
When Lee told Xiang about his fundraising bike trip, she was one of the first people to donate to his cause.
Lee started fundraising in December, immediately after he heard about the 4K for Cancer event from his best friend.
Lee said the unique nature of the fundraising event attracted him instantly. Lee and the other bikers will be biking for six days, and then one day each week they will do community service in which they share what they are doing with cancer patients from different hospitals.
Lee said his group will “draw physical, mental and emotional parallels” which compare their journey to cancer patients’ fights against cancer.
“We chose to do this ride, but they didn’t choose to go through the fight against cancer, so that’s at least something we can do to give them hope and let them know that there’s people like us doing something like this to raise awareness to cancer,” Lee said.
Lee’s group of 31 people will be meeting with cancer patients throughout their trek, which begins in Maryland, and continues through Virginia, Tennessee, Missouri, Kansas, Colorado, Utah, Nevada, and ends in California.
To prepare for the long journey, Lee said he has been training in many ways.
First of all, Lee is taking a cycling course. He said he is looking forward to learning more about biking through the course.
“I’m excited because I don’t really know all the maintenance parts and stuff, so it’ll be cool to learn that for my trip,” Lee said.
Lee is also receiving a customized bike from 4K for Cancer so he can begin training outdoors.
To prepare emotionally, Lee is adopting an idea from a previous 4K for Cancer participant. Lee said he plans to dedicate each day of cycling to somebody who has been affected by cancer, by writing their names somewhere on his body.
“If I see their name on me, I won’t be able to give up cycling because that would be giving up on them,” Lee said. “I can’t give up on them because the whole point of this is to give people hope.”
Lee will be dedicating the first day to his mother, and the rest of the days will be dedicated to others who have or have had cancer.
Fundraising has become a major focus for Lee as his trip draws closer. By May 15, Lee must raise $4,500, in which he has already raised $3,000. So far, Lee has received generous donations from many different people including family and friends, his past U.S. high schools, UW-Whitewater professors, UW-Whitewater students and others as well.
Although Lee has received many donations, he still needs to raise about $1,500 more.
He recently ordered 1,000 bracelets with the slogan “cycle, inspire, unite.” Lee plans to give bracelets to people who already donated and sell them to students in the dorms.
With the bike trip right around the corner, Lee said he has his ultimate goal set.
“Even after this ride, I still want to be connected to the cancer community because there are so many people around us who are affected by cancer,” Lee said. “It’s a scary thing.”