After countless months of preparing and fundraising, Dong Hoon Lee spent this past summer biking from Maryland to California to benefit cancer awareness.
The cause is close to Lee because his mother was diagnosed with thyroid cancer in 2006 while he attended high school in Fort Atkinson. Lee, who is an international student, was born in Korea.
Lee said he decided to show his support for cancer awareness by biking 4,500 miles with the 4K for Cancer organization.
“I dedicated the very first day to my mom and the very last day for her to make it a full circle,” Lee said.
4K for Cancer supports young adults who are battling cancer. Lee was able to raise over $5,000. The money he raised will benefit cancer patients who are in need of financial help.
Lee rode with 28 other riders over a 70-day span from May 27 to Aug. 4. He said they became a close-knit family during the trip, and he continues to keep in touch with them.
They started their trip by dipping the back of their tires into the Atlantic Ocean, and they finished the trip by dipping their front tires in the Pacific Ocean as a ceremonial event to remember the trip.
“Even though we all came from different areas and different lives, we all have the same common goal: to fight the cancer,” Lee said. “They all had personal stories for why they were biking.”
The bike riders stayed in churches, schools, homes and camped out a few times.
Lee said the most difficult part of the trip was riding through the Rocky Mountains in Colorado.
“I had moments when I wanted to give up, and then I reminded myself that this is a once in a lifetime experience, and I have to remember the people I’m riding for,” Lee said.
The group visited cancer centers and volunteered at hospitals during their service days.
“We were able to draw parallels with the patients by sharing our spiritual, emotional and physical struggles,” Lee said.
Lee said one of the most inspirational parts of the trip was when he met a girl named Kristy at one of the cancer centers. Kristy said she enjoyed Lee’s company so much that she was upset to see him leave.
“Kristy told me she would never forget me,” Lee said. “It was very rewarding. It really motivated me.”
Lee said he hopes to spread this cancer awareness movement back to Korea someday.
Lee wrote a book about his experience that will be published in Korea this November. The book is aimed at challenging young people to step up and do something extreme for their passions.
“It’s an honor to have something tangible to remember this trip by,” Lee said.
Lee’s accounting professor, Joe Gerard, helped Lee make his final financial goal for the trip. Lee dedicated two of his riding days to Gerard’s wife and daughter, who are also battling cancer.
“What Dong accomplished is truly a feat of sheer determination and discipline,” Gerard said. “He is driven by his desire to make a difference, and we were honored by what he accomplished.”
Lee’s mother is currently in remission and doing well. He keeps in touch with her twice a week via Skype.
“I miss every day and every moment of the trip,” Lee said. “Before the trip, I thought cancer was just death, but the people who I met on the trip are happier than normal people and I will never forget them.”
Thank you from Dong Hoon Lee
“I’d like to show my greatest appreciation to those who made this trip possible. This summer’s once-in-a-life experience was unforgettable. Without everyone’s support in the community of Whitewater, Fort Atkinson and Jefferson, I could not have gone on this trip. Also, I am very thankful for my family in Korea and my family here in Wisconsin, my friends, and the professors at UW-Whitewater who supported me without missing a beat. So, thank you to all those who supported me and the cancer community.”