Before Michelle Marciniak decided to get on a bike to raise awareness for Alzheimer’s disease, she estimated the farthest she had ever pedaled was 25 miles. In September, the former Lady Vol point guard will join the Pedal for Pat peloton for 1,098 miles across five states in 12 days.
“It almost averages out to be about 100 miles a day,” said Marciniak, who played for the late Pat Summitt from 1993-96 and won a national title at Tennessee in 1996. “It’s a long time on a bike and the first year we did it, I was in shock, because 100 miles a day is really hard on your body.
“You also have to be able to ride a certain pace for the 100 miles a day. That’s the kicker. To commit to a ride like this it’s daunting. I definitely wasn’t a cyclist in this realm before this event. I’ve become more of one over the years.”
The first Pedal for Pat event, which was organized by Marciniak and co-founder Josh Crisp, was held in 2017, one year after Summitt died on June 28, 2016, from Alzheimer’s disease at the age of 64.
The 2023 event will be held Sept. 11-22 with a first leg from Knoxville to Asheville, North Carolina. The route will wend through Tennessee, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia and Alabama before a final leg from Chattanooga to Knoxville.
The peloton will pedal an overall elevation gain of more than 60,000 feet. With 1,098 miles – the number matches Summitt’s career wins total – Marciniak will have hours alone with her thoughts on a bike.
“I think about her often because you’re talking seven, eight hours a day that you’re just sitting there grinding away pedaling and thinking,” Marciniak said in an interview with Knox TN Today. “I know on some of the climbs when you feel like you want to fall off your bike or quit or just pop off your bike and walk, that’s when I hear her voice.
“You never stop, you never quit at anything. You finish it. It’s a mentality and obviously Pat had a lot to do with that.”
Marciniak, Crisp and six other cyclists already are set for the full 12 days. Four other cyclists will join the group for multi-day rides. The majority are from Knoxville, and several have personal reasons to join the effort due to loved ones who have are dealing with or have died from Alzheimer’s disease.
Registration is open HERE to join the peloton for the full event – and commit to raise $10,000 – or ride one day or multiple days. A virtual option is available to log 1,098 miles in a month. Volunteers also are needed as part of the support group for nutrition, hospitality, mechanical needs and therapy and recovery efforts.
Anyone joining the ride needs to be prepared for the level of endurance and skill it takes to stay on a bike all day.
“You have to know how to ride as doubles with somebody next to you,” Marciniak said. “You have to learn how to ride in a single file line when the traffic’s bad. You’ve got someone who’s always in front, pulling and fighting the wind, and then they drop behind to the back of the line and someone else pulls because you’re moving as if you are one giant tractor trailer.
“You all have to be in sync in order to cover the distance, and you can’t have one that’s going 10 miles an hour, and the other people are going 16 and 17. You have to stay together, because you’re riding as a pack.
Riding conditions also can range in terms of temperatures and weather with scorching hot days to downpours.
“The weather in the morning could be in the 50s and then by the time it’s mid-afternoon, it’s in the 80s,” Marciniak said. “You’ve got the heat, you’ve got the cold and then the emotion of why we are doing this. It’s the soberness of doing this for Alzheimer’s and for me it’s super personal because of Pat.”
One anonymous donor gave $1,098, an indication, Marciniak said, “of appreciating the nature of what the number means.”
The route will include multiple stops for awareness events at the end of each bike leg. The plan also is to make campus stops at South Carolina in Columbia and Georgia Tech in Atlanta, while also visiting the SEC offices in Birmingham, Alabama.
The logistics of a 12-day bike ride are considerable, and Marciniak made a personal donation of $50,000 in honor of Summitt to Pedal for Alzheimer’s, which oversees the execution of Pedal for Pat and other awareness events. The funds raised during Pedal for Pat will support The Pat Summitt Foundation and The Pat Summitt Clinic, which is led by medical director Dr. Roberto Fernandez-Romero.
“I love what The Pat Summitt Clinic is doing and Dr. Fernandez,” Marciniak said. “He’s such a great guy, and I wanted to support more this year than I did in the previous years. I’m just trying to help. We have to find a cure. If you think about Jimmy V, he’s the face of cancer. Kay Yow, she’s the face of cancer.”
The V Foundation for Cancer Research formed in response to college basketball coach Jimmy Valvano being diagnosed with cancer. He died at the age 47 on April 28, 1993, from metastatic adenocarcinoma, two months after his iconic “Don’t ever give up” speech at the 1993 ESPY Awards.
College basketball coach Kay Yow formed the Kay Yow Cancer Fund. She received the Jimmy V ESPY Award for Perseverance on July 11, 2007, that was presented on stage by Summitt, a coaching colleague and close friend. Yow died at the age of 66 on Jan. 24, 2009, from breast cancer.
“Pat is the face of Alzheimer’s, but they’re not here anymore,” Marciniak said. “Somebody has to commit to carrying on their second legacy, which was the disease that they were fighting. She didn’t want to quit on that, and she didn’t but it took her life. I feel like it is a calling of mine to continue to support her. I have a responsibility to give back.”
Maria M. Cornelius, a writer/editor at MoxCar Marketing + Communications since 2013, started her journalism career at the Knoxville News Sentinel and began writing about the Lady Vols in 1998. In 2016, she published her first book, “The Final Season: The Perseverance of Pat Summitt,” through The University of Tennessee Press.