Boulder High incoming senior Martha Riedel has a personal stake in her fundraising effort for this weekend’s Courage Classic, the Children’s Hospital Colorado Foundation’s two-day bike ride.
In treatment for a rare, aggressive childhood cancer, she’s planning to ride in her fourth Courage Classic — and this time, she wants to be the ride’s top fundraiser.
Riedel and her parents are riding with the “Wheels of Justice” team, which donates the money raised to the Children’s Hospital Colorado Center for Cancer and Blood Disorders. The center uses the money for its wellness program for patients and families — a program, Riedel noted, she has benefited from directly.
“The emotional and mental side of having cancer is equally as important as the medical side,” she said. “You have child life specialists to talk to. Without that, the center just wouldn’t function as well as it does.”
Riedel was first diagnosed at 13, on her second day of eighth grade, with Ewing’s sarcoma, a rare form of bone and soft tissue cancer. About 200 children and young adults are diagnosed each year in the United States, according to St. Jude’s Research Hospital.
Children’s Colorado sees four or five new cases of bone sarcomas each year.
The symptoms of Ewing’s Sarcoma are often mistaken for a sports injury or just regular childhood bumps and bruises, the hospital says. Symptoms include swelling, soreness, limping, pain that gets worse during exercise or at night and sometimes a low fever. Survival rates vary based on age and tumor location.
With a tumor in the pelvis area, Riedel’s family was told she had a 25 to 30% survival rate in the first year.
Through grueling treatments for the aggressive cancer, her parents said, she stayed positive. Her dad, Ned Riedel, describes her simply as “a badass.”
“She has never given up,” he said. “No matter what is thrown at her, she’s going to do whatever it takes.”
During her first round of treatments, she was admitted to the hospital and and quarantined with shingles. Her doctors told her she would likely have to take a break from her cycling training. She didn’t.
In what has become known to her friends and family as “true Martha form,” she took that as a challenge and set up her turbo trainer in the hospital room.
Just four weeks after finishing an eight-month course of chemotherapy and radiation, she ran the 2016 Bolder Boulder. Then a couple months later she rode in her first Courage Classic, raising more than $6,000.
Her freshman year at Boulder High, she rode every race with the school’s mountain biking team. That summer, she rode in her second Courage Classic and was the seventh highest fundraiser.
Late in the summer of 2017, her cancer came back, this time as a tumor in her lung.
On the first day of her sophomore year, she was in surgery getting her second port placed for chemotherapy. Through treatment, she competed in every race with her mountain biking team, but had to skip the state championship because of a low platelet count.
She finished her sophomore year with surgery to remove the last of the tumor, and rode in her third Courage Classic that summer. She was the ride’s fifth highest fundraiser.
She was cancer-free last year, her junior year, and continued racing as the mountain bike team’s co-captain.
In late May, the cancer again came back. A routine scan showed two tumors in her lymph nodes in the blood vessels near her lungs and above her heart. She had surgery in June to place a chemotherapy port, her third port and sixth surgery.
She’s now part of a clinical trial at Children’s Hospital that combines chemotherapy with a drug designed to inhibit the tumor’s ability to repair itself.
She was planning to ride the full 80-mile course before she relapsed. Now, after two rounds of chemo, she said she’s not sure if she will try the 40-mile course or stick to the shorter family ride. Either way, she’s determined to participate.
“I’ve been dealing with this so long, I’ve just learned to live with it and to live on even during chemotherapy,” she said. “I try to let it affect my life the least possible.”
Plus, she said, getting out for bike rides always makes her feel more energized.
“Whenever I come back from bike riding, I have a better day,” she said.
To donate, go to Riedel’s fundraising page at tinyurl.com/yxrk2plq.