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Local teacher helps raise brain cancer awareness in nationwide race

ROCKINGHAM — For Richmond County Ninth Grade Academy teacher Vincent Paparella, whose knack for adventure is almost insatiable, the only thing more satisfying than getting to travel across the country is being able to raise money and awareness for brain cancer along the way.

And for six days in June, he was able to accomplish both.

Working diligently with the Lumberton, N.C., based charity 3,000 Miles to a Cure, Paparella served as a crew member on an exhilarating cross-country bicycle trek with one goal in mind: ending brain cancer.

The coast-to-coast trip also held some personal significance, as Paparella’s family has been directly affected by the disease. 

The charity 3,000 Miles to a Cure was founded in 2013 by Paparella’s aunt, Maria Parker, after her sister (also Paparella’s aunt), Jenny Mulligan, was diagnosed with brain cancer. Parker knew immediately something had to be done, as brain cancer’s research and prevalence is much less than other types of cancers. 

Parker, who is an endurance cyclist, conferred with her husband Jim, who is a physician, and from thorough planning, 3,000 Miles to a Cure was born. The organization has held annual cross-country fundraisers, termed “Race Across America” or “RAAM”, since 2013, using both single rider and team formats.

Sadly, Mulligan passed away from her battle with brain cancer during RAAM in 2014.

“Race Across America is a terrific symbol for the fight against brain cancer,” Parker said. “I wanted to turn my grief into action. I wanted to continue to fight for other families.”

The bicycle fundraiser has transformed from an event that was focused on suffering and surviving and pain to a platform that exemplifies teamwork, hope and optimism. For Paparella, he knew it was his time to contribute to the cause.

He joined RAAM 2017 at the starting line on Saturday, June 17, in Oceanside, Ca., and acted mainly as navigator. He was also responsible for tending to the cyclists’ needs, the bicycles and being a supportive crew member. 

The race consisted of two teams, both with four riders: 4Dudes (Erik Braun, Chris Clemens, Ryan Jean and Matt Seconi) and Team Cruzbike (Kevin Gambill, Larry Oslund, Jim Parker and Maria Parker). Through friendly competition, both teams were racing to the finish line in Annapolis, Md., and also competing to see who could raise the most money for brain cancer research.

 

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Each day, riders rode in memory of someone who passed from brain cancer, or for someone who is currently battling the disease.

Riders participated in six-hour rotations, with two riders for each team on the course, both splitting the distance equally. The course tested the riders’ endurance, as they battled the heat of Death Valley, traversed the ridges of the Rocky Mountains, swept through the plains of Kansas, climbed the foothills of the Ozark Mountains in Missouri, and made their final push through the Appalachian Mountains of West Virginia and Pennsylvania.

Team Cruzbike arrived first in Annapolis, crossing the finish line together around 3 a.m. on Saturday, June 24, completing the 3,000 mile journey in an astonishing six days, 12 hours and 23 minutes.

Team Cruzbike raised $29,270, and Team 4Dudes raised $36,630, for a combined total of $65,900 that will be used in the campaign to end brain cancer.

“When you do RAAM, you feel like you’re living at a level 10 times what you normally do,” Parker said of her race experience. “It’s always thrilling. It’s like you live 10 years in six days; just an incredible number of experiences.”

Upon returning to Richmond County and reflecting back on his trip of a lifetime, Paparella truly understands the impact of participating in RAAM 2017.

“I am most proud of the opportunity to raise money for brain cancer research through RAAM and the 3,000 Miles to a Cure organization,” Paparella said. “Traversing the nation as a crew member allowed me to see America, which is something I’ve always wanted to accomplish.

“As a crew, we became family. We made the best from adversity, while forming lifelong friendships. I look forward to helping this organization reach its goal in discovering a cure to brain cancer.”

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Kyle Pillar is a 16-time North Carolina Press Association award-winning sports editor with The Richmond Observer. Follow the sports department on Twitter @ROSports_ for the best in-depth coverage of Richmond County sports.