Vietnam Vet Bikes For Children’s Cancer Research

More than 15,700 children are diagnosed with cancer each year in the United States. Thirty-eight of them die every week. It’s the biggest killer of children from disease in this country.

As staggering as those statistics are, to many they are just that. Statistics. But to someone who has lost a child to cancer, those numbers are gut wrenching and heartbreaking.

George T. Gagnon of Mechanicsville, Virginia is one of those people. The Vietnam veteran lost his son, Geoffrey Thomas, at age 5 to Meningeal Sarcoma in 1977.  

“It’s a very rare cancer for a youngster,” said George, 70. “It’s something that only adults usually have.”

International Race Plants the Seed

Through the years, George and his wife have supported a variety of cancer research fundraising events. Including the Ukrop’s Monument Avenue 10K, in which they participated for 10 years. More recently, George has opted to ride for the cause rather than walk or run.

“Bikes were a big part of our lives growing up on Long Island,” George said. “There were a lot of sidewalks to ride on back then.

“In 2015 we had the UCI Road World Championship bike races here in Richmond for nine days. I was out there one day rooting on the bikers and I thought, ‘I need to get back into bike riding.’

“Then one day I got an email about cancer research pertaining to The Great Cycle Challenge. I looked into it and thought about how it would be a way to get back to biking while raising funds for a great cause.”

Great Cycle Challenge

The Great Cycle Challenge was launched in 2015 by the Children’s Cancer Research Fund. Since then, more than 230,000 people have participated from all 50 states, riding over 20 million miles and raising more than $24 million.

George became involved with the event in 2017, riding nearly 200 miles and raising over $1,000.

He increased his miles and money raised the next couple of years, and has really stepped up his game in 2020.

As of this writing, George has ridden 620 miles and raised $9,033 this year. That places him No. 1 in the state rankings and No. 29 nationally.

Here’s How It Works

“It’s an interesting marketing strategy that the Children’s Cancer Research Fund uses for this event,” George said.

“They give you all the resources you need, for your Facebook page and for your emails to potential donors. They even provide a template for your webpage where you keep your stats.

“I have a large contact list and I post a lot on Facebook, telling people what I’m doing. I tell them that if they’re inspired, they can contribute to the cause.

“The Great Cycle Challenge is normally a one-month event, held in June. But this year because of COVID, it was pushed to September. And due to all the fires in the West and hurricanes in the South, they extended it this year to the end of October.

Upgrading His Ride

“Initially when I started I had a good old $99 Walmart special bike,” George continued.

“But then I bought myself a nice bike in 2018 with 29-inch tires – a Trek Verve 2. I’ve put a little over 2,000 miles on it and got the tires replaced this year.

“For the most part these are leisurely rides. I average about 12 miles an hour. The farthest I’ve gone so far is 25 miles, but I’m going to aim for 30 soon when I ride on the Virginia Capital Trail in Richmond.

“There are about 50 homes in my neighborhood and they all know what I’m doing when I ride past their houses.

An Inspiration to Neighbors

“I think I’ve inspired the neighborhood kids and adults because more people around here are riding than ever before. Next year I want to create a team to raise funds and get t-shirts for everyone.

“I cycle year ‘round even when I’m not in a challenge,” he added. “I have a stationary bike in the TV room that I use a lot, especially when there’s snow on the ground.

“But if it’s clear outside and no snow, I’m out there on the streets. I’m planning to start a weight workout program too.

“As I like to say, I’m in pretty good shape for the shape I’m in, and I want to stay in good shape.”

Wearing Many Hats

After spending his teen years on Long Island, George started junior college but dropped out to join the military in 1969. He served as a mechanic and helicopter crew chief in Vietnam, flying 700 hours and conducting 153 combat missions.

Since being discharged in 1972, he joined the police force and earned a criminal justice associate’s degree at Thomas Nelson Community College in Hampton, Virginia. He’s now just a few credits shy of a bachelor of science degree.

Through the decades, George has worked in a variety of fields. Including jobs in sales, plant and facilities management, factory work, and operations management.

He’s currently working part-time at a hardware store and fulltime in Safety, Security and Continuity of Operations for the Virginia Employment Commission. He’s also been a certified soccer referee for the past 30 years. 

“I like to joke that I’ve had a lot of jobs but no career,” said George, who will celebrate 41 years of marriage in early November and has had five children.

Strumming Away Since 1964

Interestingly, George’s lifelong interest in music has helped him raise money for cancer research.

“I’ve been playing guitar since 1964,” he said. “I still have a 12-stringer from Vietnam that I brought back and used to entertain troops on the 12-hour flight home. I played in a band for a while and I still play as much as I can.

“The Beatles were a big influence on me.” (The fact that he shares a first name with one of the Beatles is merely a coincidence.)

“I would borrow my older brother’s guitar so many times that he eventually bought me one at a Sears & Roebuck store. Currently I have two acoustic and two electric guitars, plus a bass.”

Combining Music With Fundraising

In 2019, George discovered a singer and guitar player named Mike Masse out of Denver, Colorado on YouTube. He plays acoustic classic rock.

Mike has been putting on daily concerts since the pandemic started. He had a special concert recently to raise money for the National Tumor Society and did a cover song that he sold to help with expenses and future treatment for his son, Noah.

Noah was diagnosed with a brain tumor before his first birthday, but has survived and is now 9 years old.

“I’ve supported Mike financially and I’m now dedicating my rides not just to kids who have died from cancer, but also to those who have survived,” George said.

“Mike has been kind enough to put my website information on his, and it has resulted in some generous donations.”

Donations Are Welcome

The Patriot Health Alliance has helped fuel George’s recent rides with a donation of Patriot Power Greens and Joint and Muscle Freedom supplements.

“I take that green scoop every day and the pill before I go to bed,” George said. “My energy is sustained throughout the day. I also put that green powder into my morning pancakes and it really enhances the flavor.”

Anyone wishing to make a donation to the Children’s Cancer Research Fund may visit George’s website at https://greatcyclechallenge.com/Riders/GeorgeThomasGagnon.

It’s difficult to imagine a more worthy cause. 

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