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Campus & Community

Let’s ride! This family has joined every Pelotonia

For the 15th anniversary of Pelotonia, the Bittonis share their stories and their passion for defeating cancer.

Biking across the Lane Avenue bridge, on the west side of campus, a family of four wears bike helmets, Team Buckeye jerseys, sunglasses and smiles. The four are a mom, dad and their two daughters.

Cancer research is one of the ties that binds the Bittoni family. Anita participated in clinical trials funded by Pelotonia that prolonged her life. Anna Maria works as a clinical oncology dietitian at The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center – Arthur G. James Cancer Hospital and Richard J. Solove Research Institute. 

“So many of our patients are in clinical trials that have been funded by Pelotonia,” she says. “Recently, I was wearing my Pelotonia T-shirt and the father of a 19-year-old patient saw it and told me he’d been riding in Pelotonia for 10 years, and his son had ridden, too. That was so cool.”

Marisa works as a research assistant professor at The James. Her research focuses on preventing cancer by modifying lifestyle choices such as diet, smoking, exercise and alcohol consumption. “Pelotonia funded our berry and cancer prevention study,” says Marisa, who also is conducting research on exercise and cancer prevention in longtime smokers. “Anita always said Pelotonia is all about hope.” 

In all, Pelotonia has raised more than $262 million to inspire hope for a cancer-free future and fund research at The James to bring about that reality.

“What I think is really neat about Pelotonia is everyone who’s involved, in any way, has a story about why they’re involved, and everyone’s story is different and unique,” Giorgio says.

His story predates the first Pelotonia.

Months before the 2009 ride, Giorgio and Marisa were at a dinner with Dr. Michael Caligiuri, then the head of The James. Caligiuri explained the Pelotonia concept, how every single dollar raised by the riders, virtual riders and volunteers would fund cancer research. 

“I told Mike, ‘I’m in. Everything about this sounds wonderful,’” Giorgio recalls.

A black woman stands before a big white board posted upright, as if on a wall. It’s covered in short lines — many filled in with handwritten names — and on the side, it says, “I Ride For.” The woman has a marker  and is adding a name to the board.

A woman adds the name of a loved one to an “I ride for” board, a Pelotonia tradition. This year, about 20 boards will be posted. Nine hundred names fit on each; behind each name is a story of struggle, love and, potentially, joy or heartbreak. The ride can be very emotional.

Marisa, who had a broken foot at the time, signed up as a virtual rider and first rode in 2010. Anna Maria and Christina, then teenagers, began riding a few years later. “I had watched my mom and dad ride and was so excited to ride with them,” Anna Maria says.

Pelotonia helped the family grow even closer.

“All four of us would go on training rides together,” Giorgio says. “And one of those proud parent moments was all four of us crossing the finish line together. That’s right up there with weddings and the first grandchild.”

Christina gave birth in April to Giorgio and Marisa’s first grandchild, Casey, who is already an unofficial member of Team CTCL, a lymphoma-focused peloton that’s part of Team Buckeye. “Hopefully, when she’s 14 [the minimum age to ride in Pelotonia] we’ll add a third generation of riders,” Giorgio says.

Christina’s husband, Ken Hamre, rides in Pelotonia, and so does Anna Maria’s fiancé, Colin. According to Giorgio, if anyone wanted to date his daughters, there was a simple rule: “They had to ride in Pelotonia.”

That’s mostly true, Anna Maria confirms. 

“It was an unspoken expectation: We spent a lot of time training and if Ken and Colin wanted to spend time with us on the weekends, they had to train with us.”

A lone male bicyclist rides past a well-cared for barn marked with a giant Pelotonia arrow, the ride’s logo. A short painted fence separates the road from the barn.

Pelotonia has become part of the landscape of Ohio, literally and figuratively. Constantly pushing forward, the mammoth effort ­funds — among many things — educational and clinical outreach through statewide initiatives focused on endometrial, colorectal, lung and breast cancers.

Pelotonia 2023

Pelotonia’s ride weekend, when cyclists take on 24- to 184-mile trips, is August 5–6, 2023, and the new Gravel Day experience is September 30. There are many ways people can support the mission.

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