Meet Brian Bortz, a middle school math teacher with an extraordinary story that combines his passion for cycling with an unwavering commitment to a cause close to his heart. For over 17 years, Brian's life has been intertwined with the American Cancer Society's Pan Ohio Hope Ride, a remarkable journey that has seen him pedal through challenges, both on and off the road. In this inspiring account, we delve into Brian's daily cycling streak, his training rituals, and how he leveraged his love for cycling to raise over $100,000 for cancer research. Join us as we explore the incredible resilience and dedication of a man whose cycling endeavors have become a beacon of hope in the fight against cancer.
In this short yet captivating interview, we discussed about:
1. A Start Of Something New For Brian
2. Body and Mind Resilience
3. Inspiring Others Through Fundraising
"I wish I didn't have to do this, but I'm glad I'm able to."
A Start Of Something New For Brian
Hi Brian, it's great to meet you. Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and how you got into cycling?
I've always sporadically cycled around the neighborhood as a kid because there wasn't a whole lot to do, but nothing too serious. That was until I first heard about the American Cancer Society's Pan Ohio Hope Ride 17 years ago. I first got involved with it in 2009, and that was a 4 day ride across Ohio from Cleveland to Cincinnati, which is about 328 or so miles - A ride like that takes some level of training & preparation, so it was really only then when I start riding more seriously.
How did you train for rides like these, not just physically but mentally?
About 8 years ago, I started keeping track of my rides on a daily basis, and I participated in a 30 day cycling challenge where we had to ride everyday for the whole month of April. There was a day where it was about 35 degrees Fahrenheit (1 degree Celcius), raining cats and dogs, and I figured that I could ride extra on another day. Then, I started thinking of people like my mom who are cancer survivors, or people who have had cancer and are no longer with us today. I thought to myself, if people could go through all of that cancer treatment, there's no reason why I can't be outside for at least 10 minutes and ride a mile.
Body and Mind Resilience
It's not easy cycling in the cold, so how did you maintain your cycling streak?
In addition to building a more reselient mentality, I've also discovered more layering techniques, gears & different bikes to use depending on the weather and cycling path. That's how I got my riding streak of over 1,300 days before I unfortunately got sick at the end of 2019-early 2020, and missed a couple of weeks. Since then, I've had a streak going again, and it's getting close to 1,300 days again (as of 28 July 2023). Of course, some days are busier than others, but I make it a point to ride at least 1 mile a day. Especially during the cold season, days get darker so much earlier and that's when I thought about my visibility on the road.
I've been commuting to work since 2016, and would either leave when it was dark, or come home when it was dark, or both depending on how long of a day it was. I had seen other helmets with lights, but I found the Lumos Kickstart which had turn signals and brakes, and thought it was really cool because it wasn't only about visibility, but predictability too because other motorists could have a better idea of what I was intending to do.
Back to your training rides, how much do you cycle each time, especially when training for 328 miles across 4 days?
It depends on my schedule - sometimes it's 20-30 miles, but I've done 50, 60, 70, and even 80 miles. We have a really great tow path trail here, and I was planning to get off at a certain point, but it connected to some other trails and I just kept going. As for the Pan Ohio ride, it's a fully supported ride, so the good thing is that I don't have to carry all my gear. It's broken up into 85 miles on Day 1, 95 each on Day 2 & 3, and 70 miles for Day 4. It's a nice ride where I maintained 13-14 miles an hour. However, I did achieve 163 miles in 15 hours sometime in 2019 on a relatively flat trail. The weather was cooling and wasn't humid so that obviously helped a lot. That's the longest I've done by a long shot. That being said, I don't have a specific training regime. Personally, it was kind of about building more miles per ride, and consecutively cycling each day. I definitely come home feeling tired but I think it's a result of keeping that level of consistency all year round.
Any special bikes/ equipment that you think helped you along the way?
Nothing special really. I use my Trek Checkpoint, which is primarily a gravel bike, but it's very light, and has good gear for climbing. I've also switched out the 40mm tires to 28mm road tires for these specific events, so that it makes it easier for riding.
Inspiring Others Through Fundraising
So we've heard that you raised over $100,000 through your Pan Ohio Hope Rides - that's impressive. Are you hoping to inspire the next generation of fundraising riders?
I've never really tried to inspire anybody else. I tried to do it because of the cause, and because it's so personal. But, the fact that it inspires others, in addition to crossing the $100,00 mark this past weekend, is a bonus to me. I always say to people, 'I wish I didn't have to do this, but I'm glad I'm able to.' So as long as there's a need, and as long as I'm able, then I plan to keep going, and hopefully keep that streak going.
Any upcoming rides you'd like to bring our readers' attention to?
I'll be participating in Cycle The South, a separate cycling event hosted by the American Cancer Society. You can donate to my fundraiser here.