Family Gives Back to Others at The Ride

Heather and Tim Wellendorf used to be runners. They trained and completed several half marathons and a full marathon before Heather’s knees couldn’t take anymore. So they took up biking to feed their need to get outdoors and explore.

Soon after, they learned about The Ride, a bicycling fundraiser for cancer research at the University of Wisconsin. They felt an immediate connection to this event because Heather is a cancer survivor—she was diagnosed with melanoma in 2012 at 33 and successfully treated at Gunderson Health System in La Crosse.

They did the 31-mile route in 2017. “We both love what The Ride stands for,” Heather says. “Having gone through cancer myself, I see the importance of having money available for research to help future patients. We also love the atmosphere.”

“There’s so much support and so much cheering,” Tim adds. “All these people have come together for the same reason. You really get a sense of that as you ride past all the ‘I Ride For…’ signs and see the names of loved ones who have faced or are facing cancer.”

One of Heather and Tim’s friends rode the century that day, and they stuck around to cheer him on. This inspired them to do a longer ride the following year. Their enthusiasm for The Ride was contagious. Their youngest son, Aidan, who was 9 at the time, was just getting interested in riding and was looking for a new challenge. He understood the importance of funding cancer research and after hearing about the experience and seeing their completion medals, wanted to ride too.

Heather’s mother, Jane Wilke, also signed up, seeing it as a fun and inspiring activity to do with her grandson. They did several training rides that summer. Tim and Heather completed the 60-mile route, while Aidan and his grandmother completed the 34-mile route. “As soon as Aidan finished The Ride he was already talking about next year,” Heather says.

Last year, Heather and Tim also signed up for The Ride’s “No One Rides Alone” group, volunteers who go out onto the course to support other riders as they finish. Tim blew a tire and wasn’t able to participate, so Heather teamed up with a friend and rode the final miles with a rider who was struggling to finish.

“We didn’t chat with him a whole lot. He was pretty quiet, so my friend and I talked to each other. Having already been on that part of the route, we were able to tell him what was ahead so he could be prepared. I wasn’t sure if we were helping him. When we got near the end, I told him, ‘We’re going to peel off. This is all you now.’ I watched him finish, and it was so touching because I knew how hard he had worked. He thanked us afterward and said that hearing us chat about our kids helped distract him just when the ride was getting so difficult. That was such a special opportunity. I’m looking forward to doing it again this year.”