The sun is barely peeking through the treetops on a chilly spring morning in Monroeville, but the streets that normally are quiet at 6:45 a.m., are abuzz with conversation and laughter. That's because hundreds of two-wheeling enthusiasts have gathered to participate in an event that started out as a challenge from a once overweight radio show host, but has now revitalized a community's sense of volunteerism.
|Fred Kelley prepares for a trial ride in front of the Monroe County Courthouse.|
Fred Kelley came up with Peddlin' for a Cure as a challenge in 2004. As marketing director for South Alabama Gas, Kelley has a program on radio station WMFC-FM in Monroeville each Friday morning.
That year, support for the county's Relay for Life, a fund-raising and awareness campaign for the American Cancer Society was lagging. Its chairman, Louise Baggett, stopped by as a guest on Kelley's talk show. The relay event was just days away, and Kelley said Baggett asked him specifically what "he" was going to do.
"Louise was personally suffering from cancer at that time, and I just knew I had to do something," Kelley said. "I had been walking and jogging, trying to stay in shape since a heart attack four years earlier. I had 20 minutes left on the show that morning, and so I told our listeners that if they would help me raise $1,000 for the relay, I would ride a bicycle from the court square in Monroeville to the battleship (USS Alabama) in Mobile. I put in the first check for $100 and it took off. It was just unbelievable."
The phone never stopped ringing for the next 21 minutes. When it finally did, he had raised $5,000. At the time, Kelley didn't even own a bike, so he went to the local hardware store, plopped down $89 and bought a Huffy mountain bike - a decision he later realized was a mistake.
"I liked the wide seat on the Huffy, but the knobby tires weren't exactly made for street riding, especially a trip that was 92 miles long," he said. "But heck, I had made a commitment by then, and there was no turning back. I had only one week to train."
Not wanting to ride alone, he recruited eight more riders to accompany him on that first trip - never realizing the impact it would have or that the ride would gain so much attention and continue to grow every year.
"When we crossed the finish line that first year and came onto the battleship, it was just unbelievable," Kelley said as he wiped tears from his eyes. "It looked like half our town was there cheering us on. I wouldn't take a million dollars for the look on Louise Baggett's face when they announced we had raised $36,000 with just those eight riders the first year."
Since then, there have been rides to the state capitol, one to Orange Beach, another through the Bankhead Tunnel to Fort Conde and this year's ride, which had the theme "Back to the Battleship." Kelley's mode of transportation has improved, and he now sports a top-of-the-line, carbon-fiber bike.
The number of riders and the funds raised each year continue to surprise Kelley, who beams with pride when he talks about Monroeville. Last year, the White House recognized Kelley's efforts when he was honored as a guest of President George W. Bush. U.S. Congressman Jo Bonner arranged the meeting.
Alfa Customer Service Representative Vickie Lee of Monroeville is one of Kelley's biggest fans. She says "no" is not a part of Kelley's vocabulary, adding that he is an inspiration to everyone he meets. Since 2000, Kelley has had two heart attacks, bypass surgery and is now on the list for a heart transplant, but he's not slowing down.
"Even with all his health problems, he is always working to give back to the community," Lee said. "My husband and I are so very proud of him and all of his accomplishments. He is such a delightful person to be around."
For the second year in a row, Peddlin' for a Cure included a kids' ride that allows local children who can ride a bicycle without training wheels to lead the ride through town as it begins. That part of the ride includes passing by both the Alfa offices in Monroeville where employees wave and cheer on the young riders, followed shortly by the adults.
This year's Peddlin' for a Cure raised a whopping $137,000, and that's just from the bike ride. It doesn't include all the other Relay for Life activities community members do each year to raise money to fight cancer and find a cure. Since it began, Peddlin' for a Cure has raised $340,000.
"People ask me how long I plan to ride," said Kelley. "I tell them I'm gonna ride until there is a cure. There is no finish line for me. I will try to ride as long as people want to do it and as long as there is cancer. I think if we peddle long enough and hard enough, we'll find a cure."