Headlines

As reported by the Republican-American, July 8, 2010.

Medical Students Ride 4,000 Miles to Find Cancer Cure

By Jeniaya Petteway

WATERBURY ó Schoolís out for the summer and after months of grinding study and clinical work, UConn medical students have one thing on their minds: relaxation. Well, not all UConn students.

On June 17, two local firstyear medical students, Alex Ocampo of Woodbury and Stacy White Jr. of Waterbury, ventured out for the 5th annual Coast to Coast for a Cure event.

Coast to Coast benefits the Leaís Foundation for Leukemia Research and the Leaís Foundation Center for Hematologic Disorders at UConn Health Center, whose goal is to fund research into the causes of and cures for leukemia and other cancers.

For each of the past four years, four UConn students have volunteered to tackle a 4,000-mile bicycle trek. This year, the journey started in San Francisco, and will end in Farmington in the middle of August.

After raising more than $9,000, Ocampo and White will complete this journey along with two other UConn students, New Hampshire native Loreen Fournier and Arturo Montano of Westport. They knew this was the only time to embark on such a trip.

"When Iím practicing I canít just take eight weeks off," said Ocampo. "This is for a great cause and itís a tradition."

Leaís Foundation was founded in 1998 to honor the memory of Lea Economos, who died from leukemia at the age of 28. Her wish was to find a cure for the disease, so others would not be faced with the same hardships she endured.

Ocampo said his team has met people who have been affected by cancer. Heís surprised at how helpful people have been in letting them stay in their homes, feeding them, and donating money.

"I am just awed at how nice people are," said Ocampo.

Neither White nor Ocampo has had any previous bike experience, nor have they had any special training. Not to mention the fact that their only help has come from the use of Google map applications from an iPhone and maps from past Coast to Coast riders.

Ocampo said he doesnít think anything could prepare someone for a trip like this. To him this journey is much more of a mental game than a physical challenge.

"Iíve been a marathon runner since I was 16," he said. "You just have to work through the pain and use endurance."

White admits that he didnít realize how tough the trip could be. "I have no bike experience," said White. "But I do have personal drive. We as medical students are always faced with challenges."

Through living off mountains of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, traveling through the Sierra Mountains, conquering the Nevada desert, and spending the night in a Home Depot parking lot, both students said that this journey is a great experience.

"Once in a lifetime," said White.