Journey of 1,000 Miles

The repetitive motion of the pedals moving up and down kept time for 14 days. And for 14 days, Leif Thornton, Vice President of Local 82 in Boston, had time to wonder, contemplate and reflect. As he rode through the rolling hills of New England, the 30-year Teamster opened his mind to the what-ifs in life.

He thought about what led him to this moment and where he and his good friend and fellow Teamster Bob Morrissey Jr. would be in a day, a month, a year from now.

It had been two years since Morrissey’s life was turned upside down when a series of doctor visits and medical tests revealed that the 43-year-old has a rare and incurable form of appendiceal cancer.

In the two years since his diagnoses, Morrissey has undergone extensive treatments and surgery to remove tumors and any unnecessary organs, including his appendix, spleen and portions of his colon.

Treating the disease is Dr. Martin Goodman, an oncologist who specializes in rare cancer and experimental remedies. Under Goodman’s watchful eye, Morrissey has been able to keep the cancer at bay—for now.

Despite the grim outlook, Morrissey has a way of always looking on the upside. a true optimist, it was Morrissey’s idea to help Goodman collect the funds he so desperately needs.

“Dr. Goodman wanted to start up research projects to learn more about the kind of cancer Bobby has, but the rare cancers don’t get the same amount of publicity or funding as the more prevalent cancers do,” Thornton explained. “So Bobby and I put our heads together and decided that we would raise the money ourselves.”

‘We’re Teamsters’

Though some thought they were crazy, support for their endeavor poured in from all corners of New England—acts that didn’t surprise Thornton in the least.

“At first, Bobby wondered about who would sponsor us, but I had no concerns,” Thornton said. “I said, ‘We’re Teamsters.’ We have 60,000 brothers and sisters in New England. Let’s catch their interest by riding to all 24 locals in six states.”

Thornton began making phone calls, setting a schedule and gaining publicity. A web site was established, a bank account opened and contacts made.

Teamsters Against Cancer was born.

Preparations

As Morrisey continued fighting for his life, Thornton turned his attention toward the event. He would need to prepare physically and mentally, as well as set an itinerary and gather a crew to ride alongside him in a car with supplies, including food and first aid.

Though he would be riding 900 miles in two weeks, the numbers didn’t bother Thornton in the least. An avid biker, Thornton had been riding to work and back since gas prices shot sky-high more than a year ago. Furthermore, he knew there were more important things to worry about.

“Nine hundred miles sounds like a huge number, but it is possible if you do it a little at a time,” Thornton said. “I told Bobby he is the inspiration for this ride. Because he is the inspiration, I will be the perspiration. If he can fight cancer, I can ride a bike.”

Thornton’s plans were meticulous. In two weeks, he would ride through six states. From Massachusetts he would ride north to Maine, then south through Vermont and New Hampshire before passing through Massachusetts once more. From there he and a support the team would ride through Connecticut and Rhode Island before ending the trip where he had started it.

Through it all, Thornton kept his eye on the grand prize: funding for rare-cancer research. Through his web site, local media outlets and a golf tournament, Thornton was able to begin collecting donations—but would they be enough?

The Ride

After months of planning, training and preparing, the day was finally upon him. With a small entourage, Thornton made his way to Local 82 and began a 900-mile bike journey that, as he put it, was life-changing.

Though the physical aspect of the bike ride was grueling, pedaling through the hills of New England gave Thornton an opportunity to see things as he hadn’t seen them before. It gave him the opportunity to look inside and find himself.

“You hear about Native Americans embarking on spiritual journeys and during the bike ride, I could relate to that,” Thornton said. “I felt pain but I know cancer patients feel pain every day. If they can find the will to keep going, I knew I could to. That carried me on.”

Up until this point, everything he and Morrisey had worked for was all about money for funding reasearch. But as Thornton diligently pedaled more than 900 miles through rain, shine, fog, heat and humidity, something in him changed. The journey he embarked on was no longer about money; it was about celebrating the gift of life.

“The trip truly changed my thoughts on everything I was doing and why I was doing it,” Thornton said. “It became almost spiritual. The hours of pedaling gave my mind time to think and reflect.”

Thornton reflected not only on himself and his life, but on the life of others—especially those with cancer. He thought about the pain they endure and the strength it takes to carry on.

“The terminal cancer diagnosis devastated me, and I wasn’t even the one who received the diagnosis,” Thornton said. “Bobby, on the other hand, has been phenomenal. He has a spirit you can’t kill.”

In all, Thornton pedaled just over 1,000 miles in two week’s time. Two hundred of those miles were completed with Morrisey pedaling right along. Teamsters Against Cancer was able to raise more than $16,000 for rare-cancer research and according to Thornton, funds are still coming in.

Now that the first ride has been completed, Thornton is hoping to make the journey an annual celebration. Preparations are already beginning for a 2010 ride.

For more information about Teamsters Against Cancer or to donate to the fund, visit www.teamstersagainstcancer.org.