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Race for a Cure project makes Grand Rapids awesome

January's Awesome Foundation grant awarded to a cycling team that will race in support of people affected by cancer.

/Abby Martin

Underwriting support from:

Additional Information

For more information about the R4AC Cycling Project, visit their Facebook page.


For more information about the Cancer Well-Fit Program, visit their website.


For more information about the Awesome Foundation, visit the national website.

Brad MacKenzie

Brad MacKenzie /Katie Caralis

There’s nothing awesome about cancer. Well, except maybe a bicycle racing team that supports local fitness programs for cancer patients.

That’s how Brad MacKenzie sees it anyway. MacKenzie, 27, won January’s $1000 grant from the Grand Rapids Awesome Foundation to support his R4AC, or Race for a Cure, Cycling Project.  R4AC is an amateur cycling team that will raise money for the Cancer Well-Fit Program, which is run through Lacks Cancer Center.

“I’ve always thought there’s something more that we could do while racing our bikes to raise awareness and raise money for a good cause,” MacKenzie said. He set out to turn the idea into reality about a year ago, in memory of his mother. MacKenzie’s mom, Lori, was diagnosed with colorectal cancer in 2007. After battling the disease for years, she passed away in October 2010 at the age of 52.

“It was a way to honor her and do something good for people,” MacKenzie said. He started looking for organizations to support and discovered the Cancer Well-Fit Program. It is a fitness program for people who are currently undergoing cancer treatment and those who have received treatment within the last year.

“I truly believe that exercise in general makes people feel better,” MacKenzie said.

Kris Rich, a trainer for the Cancer Well-Fit Program at East Hills Athletic Club, agrees. Exercise is “not going to cure cancer, but it’s going to help,” she said.

The program runs in 10-week sessions meeting twice a week and focuses on strength training, balance and flexibility. It includes a gym membership and has an option to participate with a family member or friend. There can be both physical and emotional benefits for participants.

“They feel stronger and more in control of their bodies,” Rich said. The bonding among participants as they share their stories with cancer is also beneficial. It’s a sense of “we’re here, we’re in this together,” she said.

A Full-Fledged Team

At first, MacKenzie thought R4AC was going to be a one man team, but he figured even if he raised a few hundred dollars he could make a difference. Then some of his cycling friends started expressing interest and the project grew from there. MacKenzie’s face lit up while talking about how the project has grown.

“Now it has exploded to where it is today. We’re going to be a full-fledged cycling team with 20 people,” he said.

This allows the team to raise more money through donations and participate in more races which will include road biking, mountain biking, criterium, triathalons and BMX, MacKenzie said.

The grant money from the Awesome Foundation will help minimize out-of-pocket expenses, such as jerseys for the team members. And it’s not just the team that has grown, but also the community involvement.

“The support that we’ve been getting has been unreal,” MacKenzie said, naming the Awesome Foundation, Saint Mary’s Hospital, and Freewheeler Bike Shop as a few of the places offering support to the project.

“I didn’t even imagine it was going to be like this. I thought it was going to be just me, riding my bike. But now we have something that I truly feel is going to be great, greater than what I ever could imagine.”

As the project grows, MacKenzie plans to spread the fundraising money to other organizations that support people with cancer and their families.

Back on a Bike

“When my mom passed away I didn’t do anything for probably three months. It took me a long time and then I got back on my bike,” MacKenzie said.

He can’t change what happened, but wants to use the positive memory of his time with his mom “as motivation to do anything—exercise, be a better person, try to do something for the community,” he said.

MacKenzie struggled to talk about his mom, but wanted to tell her story.

His mother was always a huge part of the community in Alpena, Michigan where MacKenzie grew up, he said. Both his parents worked for the public school system, his father as a teacher and coach and his mother as an administrative assistant to the superintendent.

“She always gave back through her time, money,” MacKenzie said. He credits her example for making him into the person he is today.

When asked what his mother would think about the cycling project, MacKenzie paused, took a deep breath and said, “I think she would love it.”


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