When Wheel to Survive started, the women who created the ovarian cancer fundraiser were crossing their fingers that 50 (dare they hope for 100?) people would sign up to ride. If they raised $50,000 to fight the disease, they determined, the event would be a success.
“We had no idea what to expect,” says Julie Shrell, 54, who was diagnosed six years ago. “All of a sudden, all this money started coming in. We had almost $200,000, and then I said, ‘We’re going to reach $300,000!’ ”
Which the 300 riders who signed up did indeed raise. Now, five years later, Wheel to Survive is in about a half dozen cities across the United States. Since that very first event at the Jewish Community Center — where it will take place again Feb. 26 — $1.6 million has been raised. As of Monday, 319 riders had registered for this year’s event; $206,000 has been raised.
“It’s phenomenal,” Shrell says. “There are now teams of people who have joined who we don’t know.”
Wheel to Survive also led the women to start Be the Difference Foundation, a nonprofit to help increase the survival rate of ovarian cancer. The statistics are grim: Fewer than half of the women diagnosed — about 22,000 every year — survive more than five years.
“It might be a small number who get it,” says Sheryl Yonack, “but it’s a mighty number, and everybody seems to know somebody who has it.”
Her connection to the disease was her friend Helen Gardner, who had been diagnosed and was taking part in a clinical trial out of town in 2012. (Gardner passed away at age 55 in 2014.)
“She called me and said, ‘I want to do a spin cycle event at the J. Can you talk for me and see if we can organize this?’ ” Yonack recalls.