LEHI — Some of the participants are saints, and more than a few are self-confessed sinners. But as long as they’re willing to stay awake for 28 hours until they roll across the finish line in Las Vegas, that’s all that matters to Steven and Jill Tew.
Five days after the Tour de France ends, the Lehi couple will watch 300 bicyclists race through the empty streets of Levan, the pretty farmlands of Circleville and a hilly highway outside Cedar City after midnight, wishing that the person who inspired their Saints to Sinners Bike Relay was still here to cheer on the riders.
Jill’s father, Ron Frandsen, died of Lou Gehrig’s disease just a few months after the Tews put on their first race to benefit research for the neurological illness that robs sufferers of muscle control and the ability to speak.
“He’d be so happy to see how popular the race has become,” says Jill, 35, who wanted to get together for a Free Lunch of Cobb salads and strawberry muffins at Mimi’s Cafe to talk about Saints to Sinners, now in its third year. “More than anything, my dad hoped for a cure, so that somebody who is diagnosed in the future can live a full life.”
Officially named amyotrophic lateral sclerosis or ALS, but often referred to by the name of the popular first baseman for the New York Yankees who died from it, Lou Gehrig’s disease is a “death sentence,” says Steven, 34, which is why he and Jill and their friends and relatives now devote a weekend every July to raising funds for research.
“The average person who gets this doesn’t live longer than five years and ends up paralyzed, eventually unable to breathe,” he says. His father-in-law first noticed that something was wrong when he could no longer grip his garden shears while working in his flower garden.
“It took hold pretty quickly from there,” says Jill, recalling how it saddened her father to give up tending his prized roses and playing his favorite classical pieces on the piano.
An attorney who was just a few years away from retirement, “he was always brave, though, and he never complained. He was thrilled when we came up with the idea for a bike race to raise awareness.”
At the blurry hour of 4 a.m. on July 27, this year’s relay racers will set out from South Jordan City Park in teams of five to 10, trading off at small-town stops along Utah’s back roads with the goal of being the first team to Sin City the following morning.
“We had a two-man team last year that finished exhausted but determined to ride again,” says Steven. “This year they’re coming back as a five-man team.”
Another team showed up the first year with brand-new bikes, purchased just two days before. “They hadn’t ridden since they were kids and they weren’t exactly in tip-top shape,” says Jill, “but they did it. You don’t have to be an Ironman in our race. Anyone who wants to hop on a bike is welcome.”
One of the most inspirational racers in Saints to Sinners is Creighton Rider, who pedals a tandem bike with his wife, Lisa. Rider has ALS and has lost the use of the muscles in his arms and hands, so Lisa handles the steering while he pedals.
“It’s so emotional to watch him, and it brings home why we stay up all night to do this,” says Steven, who dreams of making Saints to Sinners a national event. “Jill’s dad is gone, but we’re racing for a cure in his memory. I know he’d be proud.”
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Cathy Free has written her "Free Lunch" column since 1999, believing that everyone has a story worth telling. A longtime western correspondent for People Magazine, she has also worked as a contributing editor for Reader's Digest.