WHS grad travels cross-country for good cause

Heather Norris raises up her bike at Badlands National Park in South Dakota. (submitted photo)

A Waterloo native and recent University of Illinois graduate spent the summer traveling across the country by bicycle — raising funds for cancer research in the process.

Heather Norris, the daughter of David and Dana Norris of Waterloo, was among a group of 22 student riders from U of I who participated in this year’s Illini 4000 bike ride from New York City to San Francisco.

The Illini 4000 is a non-profit organization dedicated to the fight against cancer. In all, the group raised $112,156 as part of this year’s ride, which began May 25 and ended July 31.

“We’re still raising money through August,” Norris added. Those interested in donating can visit online at Illini4000.org.

Norris, a 2009 graduate of Waterloo High School, said the cross-country trek was a first-time thing for her. She purchased a road bike in December and started training in the spring.

On average, the group traveled about 70 miles per day, Norris said. The largest amount of terrain covered in one day was 106 miles.

Overall, the weather remained tolerable throughout the trip, Norris said.

“We didn’t run into much rain, actually,” she said.

However, she said Nevada was “really, really hot.”

The group also went through some pretty high mountains, Norris said, including a 5,700-foot climb in the Bighorn Mountains.

“That was a hard day, but then we had a pretty nice downhill,” Norris reflected.

Other than camping just a few nights of the summer-long trek, Norris said the group mostly slept in churches or schools that had graciously opened their doors along the way.

Norris said she didn’t really know many of the members of her group at the start of the ride.

“Now, we’re all like a big family,” she said.

Near Lake Tahoe, Norris said a member of the group had fallen off their bike, so she hopped away from hers to help. When she returned to resume riding, her bike was gone.

“Luckily, I was able to find a good used bike and make it to California,” Norris said.

“In all, it was a great way to see the country… you’re just right there in it.”

But the trip wasn’t just about riding bikes cross-country. The group stopped at various cancer centers, including the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, N.Y., and toured hospitals to gain more knowledge of the cancer fight and also show support for those on the front lines of battle.

Norris said they would interview cancer survivors, caregivers and others affected by cancer in some way in an effort to document how cancer impacts lives across America.

“It helped us remember why we were doing it,” she said. “I believe nearly everybody has some sort of connection to cancer, whether it has affected a family member, friend, or even themselves. I truly believe a cure is out there, and we must keep searching for the answers.”

Funds raised as part of the ride will go to the American Cancer Society, Live Strong, the Camp Kesem summer camp for kids with a parent who has cancer, and the Damon Runyon Cancer Research Foundation.

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