Team PHenomenal Hope Set for ‘Race of Our Lives’

By: Chuck Finder

OCEANSIDE, Calif. – “We are Team PHenomenal Hope. . .,” Patty George, M.D., introduced to a crowd of media, fellow Race Across America competitors, an online audience watching the live-streamed news conference and other onlookers with their backs to the Pacific Ocean.

Two years after officially forming this group, Dr. George and fellow Division of Pulmonary, Allergy and Critical Care Medicine colleague Stacie Truszkowski plus teammate Ryanne Palermo addressed a Thursday news conference that signals all of their mileage, effort, awareness-increasing and fund-raising for pulmonary hypertension (PH) is about to launch from this scenic coastline Saturday. The true journey is about to begin, atop the Oceanside Pier under whose shadow the news conference was held.

Race Across America (RAAM) is a 3,000-mile, 24-hours-a-day, up-to-nine-days-maximum test of endurance, will, sleep deprivation, desert, mountains, plains, more mountains and more will. It has been testing cyclists’ minds and bodies for three decades, starting as primarily a Western riding adventure. Last year’s race alone raised more than $2 million, and as a charity-heavy, mettle-testing athletic event attracts competitors from across the globe. This year’s race includes entrants from Italy and the only other all-women, four-person cycling team, from Germany.

On Thursday, Team PHenomenal Hope also sat at a press-conference table with some famous male cyclists attempting RAAM as rookies like them, including BMX legend and video-game star Dave Mirra. (Funny, but when a San Diego television station separately interviewed RAAM entrants, neither of the two standing in front of its camera on the beach was Mirra or his Legends of Cycling teammates – one, in fact, was Dr. George.)

By rule, one cyclist must be on the RAAM course at all times, and there are a thousand rules – indeed, the 49-page rule book numbers to Rule 1130: Follow Vehicle Exchange. Half of the team’s crew of drivers, navigators, cooks, bicycle repair experts and recreational vehicle drivers is comprised of fellow UPMC and University of Pittsburgh Schools of the Health Sciences workers. It indeed requires a coordinated effort to keep two racers swapping places every 10-20 miles across California, Arizona, Utah, Colorado, Kansas, Missouri, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, West Virginia, a slice of south-Central Pennsylvania and, ultimately, the Maryland end in Annapolis.

In Oceanside, and across the route that’s one-third longer than the Tour de France, Dr. George, Truszkowski, Palermo and fourth rider Anne-Marie Alderson – a Pitt graduate who joined them later Thursday – will be riding for the Pulmonary Hypertension Association and thousands of PH patients under the campaign/hashtag: Race of Our Lives. Those patients, many planning to gather at the start and along the route, already have followed the Team’s mission via social media or met them at conferences, donated for each of the 3,000 miles on the journey, and even mirrored their fund-raising efforts. An 11-year-old Monroeville girl who joined the Team on its April 5K walk-run, Anna Lindner, sent Dr. George a good-luck text Thursday morning. “We aren’t racing for them,” Dr. George said, “we’re racing with them.”

They start Saturday.