GREELEY, Colo. (AP) – The hill seemed to lengthen like an earthworm in the rain as Julie Parker struggled to bike to the top.

She hadn’t owned a bicycle since 2003, when she did a triathlon and put it up for sale on Craigslist with the title line “Good Riddance.” Now she was 38 and out of shape, and her weight reflected that.

Yet here she was just a few weeks ago, in the middle of a 50-mile ride, with the wind, the hill and the sun fighting over who got to abuse her the most.

Then she glanced down at the picture on her handlebars. Her mother, Patti Jo Wilson, flashed her the look she used to give Parker when she was doing something wrong and when she was proud.

Wilson died six years ago of breast cancer. Parker was 33 when she lost her mother. It was really tough. Her death was one of the reasons Parker stopped working out. Now it’s the main reason she hopes to bike 600 miles across parts of northern Colorado, Wyoming and Nebraska. She leaves May 16 and hopes to finish May 27.

Parker, who lives in Fort Collins, works in patient financial services at the North Colorado Medical Center Summitview Diagnostic Center in west Greeley. She often works with patients in the breast health center. She was broken-hearted to learn the center will lose grant funding that helps it give out, among other services, almost 200 free mammograms to working women with a high insurance deductible or no insurance at all. There isn’t much out there to help those women, she said, and she hopes the ride will raise the money to at least partially replace those funds.

In fact, Parker’s mother was one of those working women. Wilson worked more than 40 years as a registered nurse but left her job for a less stressful career. She worked full time, but her employer didn’t offer health insurance, and she could not afford a plan on her own. So when Wilson found a lump during a self-examination, she didn’t take care of it, Parker said. When the lump became bigger, Wilson finally went to a doctor, but the tumor was stage 4, the worst kind, and two years later, after a valiant fight, she died. Parker believes the program like the one she’s trying to fund would have saved her mother.

“I meet so many women who have the strength and courage to fight breast cancer,” Parker said. “It reminds me of what I watched my mom go through. But it all starts with that first mammogram.”

Years later, she still feels the empty space left by her mother’s death. A little while ago, a brother had his first child, and there was no one to share the excitement with, she said. When she rides, she wears pink socks that shout “Cancer Sucks,” and she takes her bike out of a Toyota 4Runner with an “I Miss My Mom” sticker in pink on the back window.

To get started, she had the spirit and the drive for the ride, but she didn’t have something almost as important: a bike. Most touring bikes cost $1,200, according to her research, and she wasn’t sure how to find one. Over dinner, Wilson’s sister, Aunt Jeanne, brought up her old touring bike.

Aunt Jeanne showed Parker a dusty, disintegrating bike with two flat tires. But Jeanne was a biker in the 1980s, and the bike was a beauty back then. She rode it on trips through the Rockies.

Parker took it to a bike store, and it became a legend, she said, the equivalent of bringing a rare sports car to a shop and asking for a renovation. The store cleaned and modernized it. It cost $520. She saved $40 with a coupon. Her father paid the bill as an early Christmas present.

She hopes to ride 50 to 70 miles a day for 12 days. That includes a day off, and there’s a little leeway in there in case she has bike problems.

When she was younger and, Parker said with a blush, thinner, she once biked 97 miles. Now she passes by the “super biker people,” as she calls them, and knows they could handle her planned ride a lot better than her.

So she picked a route that isn’t the most scenic — she’ll go through Greeley to Wheatland, Wyo., to Ogallala, Neb., to Sterling to Brush and back to Greeley — but it will allow her to stop at other places where Banner Health operates and soak up the support of people who are essentially her fellow employees.

She knows she will need that support. It will be nice to see faces other than her mother’s pushing her to make it.

Many times, though, just that face is enough.

“I remember Mom’s fight,” Parker said, “and that keeps me going.”

– By Dan England, The Daily Tribune

(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)


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