Marathon runner Sijon rides for cancer research

GREENVILLE — Kerrie Sijon likes to run. She likes it so much that she runs 30 to 50 miles every week across the rolling foothills of South Carolina. She has competed in 33 marathons and an ultramarathon. Not getting enough exercise, she decided recently to take up distance bicycling.

“I needed some cross-training,” Sijon said.

The Belmont Abbey graduate also needed a cause and she found it in the Challenge to Conquer Cancer, a long distance bicycle ride to raise money for cancer research. Faced with the need for cross-training and the fund-raiser, preparing to ride was a natural. She practiced as hard on her new bike as she did as a runner. Before long, Sijon felt ready for the big-time.

Sijon rode as part of a peloton, a relay event for cyclists, from Greenville, S.C., to Austin, Texas, Oct. 19-23.

“They did it to raise money for cancer, and Kerrie raised a lot of money,” said Joanne Miller, director of religious education at St. Mary Church. “She also teaches our confirmation classes here at the parish.”

Raising the money was only the first step. Sijon wrote letters to 175 family members and friends, and secured almost $10,000 in sponsorships.

“People were generous,” she said. “I dedicated the ride to my father, who was diagnosed with prostate cancer, and for friends who have had cancer or who are fighting it now.”

Twenty-three cyclists rode in front of escort vehicles in teams, night and day, wearing safety gear with lights fore and aft, for more than 1,500 miles. They pedaled up hills in the sun and through valleys in the rain. They endured heat and cold, burning leg muscles, chafed skin and wind rashes. The peloton traveled through eight states on its journey.

The riders were sponsored by the Palmetto Peloton Project, or P3, a non-profit organization that seeks to fund cancer research and advocacy, and raised a total of $246,000, according to Sijon. The donations were divided between Greenville Hospital’s cancer research facilities, which received 70 percent, and the Lance Armstrong Foundation, which received 30 percent.

As a bonus, the cyclists were allowed to train with Armstrong himself once they reached Austin. The seven-time Tour de France winner is coming out of retirement.

“I rode 65 miles with Lance on his own training course in Austin on Sunday,” Sijon said.

She also ran in a five-kilometer road race on the day between bicycling across half the country and training with the world’s greatest racing cyclist.

Sijon is the mother of two college students and the wife of Michael Sijon. The couple will celebrate their 25th wedding anniversary in February, and they own and operate Palace Billiards in Greenville. In addition to her 10 years of religious education work at St. Mary, she also volunteers at Brookland Elementary School and the Greenville Track Club.

Sijon said that the cross-country peloton experience was life changing.

“Sacrificing for others was a great feeling. I can’t wait to do it again next year,” she said.