From California to Arizona with Team PHenomenal Hope

By: Chuck Finder

MONUMENT VALLEY, Utah — This has been a long, winding road so far. It started Saturday along the crowded beaches of Oceanside, Calif. Cheered at the start line by dozens of pulmonary hypertension patients hailing from Southern California to Seattle along with the president of the Pulmonary Hypertension Association, the four women forming Team PHenomenal Hope — including UPMC pulmonologist Patty George, M.D. — began their uphill climb.

From the get-go, this 3,000-mile Race Across America (RAAM)  lives up to its title as World’s Toughest Bike Race by sending its 150 cyclists or so through climbing, curving, diving mountainous passes. Down a 4,000-foot Coast Range descent called the Glass Elevator to a bottom floor 235 feet below sea level at the Salton Sea. From the desert Colorado River valley of Arizona to the 6,000-foot elevation in Prescott. Through scenic Monument Valley, Utah, a visage from many western films, to Colorado’s Rockies. . .

And that’s all in the first three days. Talk about RAAM tough. Ultimately, they’ll make 170,000 feet worth of climbs.

“We are almost 48 hours into the race, and this race is living up to expectations. What are those? That it will be challenging, physically, mentally and that issues will arise that you solve along the way. But we have a strong team, and an amazing crew and crew chief who has gotten us through the hiccups along the way. The most important thing is that we keep going, and get to the finish line. This isn’t just about personal goals or glory. This is about taking our passion for cycling to the extreme for people who work to breathe with pulmonary hypertension. We race not for but with the PH community.

But as is written on the back of the Team T-shirts worn daily by a crew half comprised of UPMC workers, this isn’t about the bikes, this isn’t about the race. It’s about the sojourn they’ve undertaken to raise awareness and donations for pulmonary hypertension (PH), an often misdiagnosed and incurable disease where high blood pressure in the lungs can be debilitating and fatal.

The national Pulmonary Hypertension Association held a send off Friday in Oceanside attended by patients, officials and PHA President Rino Aldrighetti. The next morning, a contingent of patients showed up at the start line, from one woman who had recently first heard about this effort — “she called us her ‘heroes,’ can you believe that?” Dr. George said — and a 21-year-old Raeana Rader from Seattle, who jokingly dubbed herself “a groupie” and just had to be there.

From there, one of the four Teammates — Stacie Truszkowski, an assistant who works with Dr. George in the Division of Pulmonary, Allergy and Critical Care Medicine, along with Ryanne Palermo and Anne-Marie Alderson — have been on bikes ever since. They remain on pace for a Saturday or Sunday finish in Annapolis, Md.