Following a collision that destroyed her support vehicle and crushed her crew’s morale, Maria Parker knew her Race Across America dreams had come to an end. But after drawing inspiration from her sister’s battle with brain cancer — the cause she had come to RAAM to support — she decided to get back on the bike and continue pedaling toward Maryland. Although competing in the over-50 division, Parker won the overall women’s race in 11 days, 21 hours and 35 minutes.
After her sister developed brain cancer, Parker decided to enter the Race Across America as a platform for raising $1 million for brain cancer research. “When Jenny was diagnosed in October with terminal brain cancer, I was preparing for a 24 hour world record attempt,” Parker wrote. “My immediate reaction was to call off the world record attempt and focus on Jenny. It took only a few days though for me to feel a need to get back on the bike. We decided to go ahead with the record attempt and I successfully set a new women’s 24-hour record. During the 24 hours, I thought about Jenny and the cancer with each pedal stroke. Afterwards, the desire to do something about the disease that was stealing my sister’s life, drive and personality began to grow in me. All of my cycling and records, the recumbent bike I ride, my particular set of talents and skills, the pause I had taken in my counseling career — it seemed my whole life had brought me to this moment. I’m supposed to do something about this”
Parker was one of five women, three of whom were older than 50, to compete in the 2013 RAAM, which started on June 11 in Oceanside, California. Parker started off strong, battling intense heat across the Mojave Desert to pedal well into Arizona by the second day. Just outside of Tuba City, Arizona, Parker’s race came to a halt when a texting driver rear-ended her follow vehicle. At the sound of shattered glass and twisting metal, “my first instinct was to pedal away,” she said, “I thought something was going to hit me. But then I looked around and there were bike parts all over the road.”
The impact destroyed the car and two back-up bicycles attached to the back of the vehicle. Parker’s son, Will, suffered a minor head injury. With her equipment wrecked and her crew shaken, Maria Parker withdrew from RAAM. “But then after 24 hours, everyone was okay, and my nephew Charlie called and said ‘You know Aunt Maria, you need to do this, you need to finish this,'” she said. “And I saw the reasoning and the wisdom in what he was saying. If we quit when we have this adversity, what kind of message does that send to people with cancer? If we gave up because somebody hit our follow car and destroyed my bikes, what kind of message are we sending to the researchers, to the victims, to other people who’ve we’ve asked for money?”
Her team salvaged parts from the destroyed bikes to cobble together new replacements, and acquired another follow car. Although she had withdrawn, she planned to continue the race unofficially on her own. However, RAAM officials decided to reinstate her in the race. Although she lost quite a bit of time during the crash debacle, she doubled her efforts and quickly caught her competitors. By Kansas, she had overtaken the rest of the women’s field, and held that position for the remainder of the race.
Cassie Schumacher finished second in 12 days, 18 hours and 57 minutes. The other three female competitors withdrew from the race. Learn more about Parker’s brain cancer fundraising efforts at http://www.3000milestoacure.com.