by Dave Warner

The llini 4000 is a student-run nonprofit at the University of Illinois that is dedicated to the fight against cancer. Each year, the group raises money for cancer research and patient support services before embarking on a cross-country bike ride from New York City to San Francisco.

The organization was started twelve years ago.

On their journey, the riders document the American cancer experience through the Portraits Project, which is a collection of stories, memories, and advice from cancer patients and their relatives. Cancer has touched all our lives in some way, so they want you to help them tell your story and create a message of hope amidst the fight against cancer.

The group of seventeen riders left Central Park on Saturday morning at 8 am and expects to be in Little Falls Monday evening.

According to Viraat Goel, one of the riders “Over the course of 75-80 days, as we’re biking, we’ll have chance encounters with people who have either experienced cancer or relatives that have experienced cancer, because, in one way or another, cancer has touched all of our lives.”

“We document what their experiences are just like a mini interview. Very casual. We compile all of these portraits and place them on our website so that it’s a haven of hope. Where somebody who is going through the ordeal of dealing with cancer, can read and connect with these stories,” said Goel.

A lot of the group’s interactions and collection of stories happens in an organic way. For instance, they stop at a gas station to refill water bottles and people ask who they are and what they are doing. “With these orange shirts we’re all wearing, people naturally ask what group we’re with,” he said.

Some places arrange visits with people before-hand if they would like to. “We don’t pressure communities to create a portraits-based event, but some places do. We normally have a small group of people who are interested in what we are doing and want to speak with us and want their story to be told,” said Goel.

If you are interested in meeting the riders and giving them your story, they’ll be arriving in Little Falls on Monday, May 20th at about 4 pm at the YMCA. After putting away their gear at the YMCA, they’ll be ready to hear your stories at about 5:30 to 6 pm.

Goel said, “At that time, we’ll be able to meet and great people who are coming and that would be lovely.”

You can donate and find out more about the group by visiting illini4000.org or the Portraits Project at portraitsproject.org.