“I was like, ‘Hell yeah,’ I want to do this,” Bates said. “So I started figuring out how to sign up.”
The cross-country riding invitation was posted by Michael Staley, 33, who was taking a break from his job as chief of staff for Rep. Spencer Bachus, R-Ala. 6th District, to ride 3,360 miles to help raise awareness of Duchenne muscular dystrophy.
The cause hit home for Bates, who had recently lost a friend who had passed away from DMD.
“At first, I didn’t even know we would be raising money,” Bates said. “Then I found out he was raising money for Duchenne which was really crazy, because we had a family friend pass away from Duchenne this past December. So, it was really crazy how that kind of came together.”
Together, the cycling team Ride4Gabe partnered with the nonprofit organization Hope For Gabe formed to help 9-year-old Gabe Griffin, who has the genetic disease.
DMD causes a gradual degeneration of muscles that will begin to shut down the heart and respiratory system.
It predominantly occurs in boys and will oftentimes lead to early death, with the life expectancy of those with DMD ranging from late teens to early 40s and 50s.
Bates and Staley have been joined by a caravan of people, including Gabe’s father Scott Griffin, in raising money and spreading the word about DMD.
The group has already raised $40,000 while also generating attention for a potentially life-saving drug called eteplirsen that has not yet been approved by the Food and Drug Administration.
The experimental drug, Bates explained, cannot reverse the effects of DMD but is believed to be able to stop the progression of the disease. Bates and the Hope For Gabe team believe the drug could greatly improve the quality of life for people like Gabe.
“Right now Gabe can walk, but in the next year or two he might be in a wheelchair,” Bates said. “If he’s in a wheelchair, he’ll never get out of there. If we can get him this drug now then potentially he can keep walking.”
Bates is currently in the midst of the second week of the 3,360 mile trip. The riders began the marathon ride with the back tires of the bikes touching the Pacific Ocean’s water in Oregon and are scheduled to finish Aug. 14, in Mobile, Ala.
The cyclists are averaging about 90 miles a day, riding six days a week and resting on the seventh day. The planned route takes the team mostly along flat highways, starting the ride at 7 a.m. and ending around 4 p.m., depending on how the riders are feeling on a given day.
Bates trains competitively as a member of the Cutters Little 500 team and is used to the physical strains of cycling, but he said the endurance of a cross-country trip forces him to pace himself more conservatively.
“It’s a different style of riding,” he said. “You need to really pace yourself and make sure you have it in you to go five, six days at a time. It’s a different riding style, but you still need to be in shape either way.”
Bates said it isn’t the physical riding that is the most strenuous part of the journey — it’s fending off boredom.
During eight hour stints, Bates spends his time listening to music and talking with the members of the Hope For Gabe Team to pass the time.
His biggest motivation has been remembering the inspiration for the ride — Gabe.
“We think about the boys like Gabe that can’t ride a bicycle and we’re just very thankful we’re able to do this,” Bates said. “That’s what keeps us going is knowing this is nothing compared to what these boys are going through.”
The group will post updates on its Hope for Gabe Inc. Facebook page during the ride. Bates’ daily route is available for tracking through and opportunities to donate to the organization are available through .
The team still has many miles left in the cross-country journey and Bates knows there are long days ahead of him — they are currently near Moran, Wyo. — but he wouldn’t want it any other way.
“Seeing people stop alongside the road and seeing how much support you get on Facebook or social media all makes it worth it,” Bates said. “There’s been a lot of really great people we’ve met, and it’s been a really rewarding experience. I’m excited to keep going and keep spreading the word for our organization.”
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