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Ride With a Purpose

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When his cousin got cancer, Harold Asher got on his bike and fought back with the Tour de Lis

rideWhen Harold Asher and three of his cyclist friends got together to ride along Lake Pontchartrain three years ago to raise money to fight cancer, they had no idea what was ahead of them.

The ride was brutal. A rare spring cold front plunged the temperature to a frigid 40 degrees in April with strong, icy winds baring down in misty rain. The route followed the periphery of the lake, starting and ending at the south shore. “We had a 30-mile-an-hour wind in our face for the first 100 miles. It sleeted,” Asher said.

Fueled by determination and anger at a disease that has taken so many lives, the crew slogged through it, hitting the finish line before dusk. The small group, which included Asher’s wife, Carol; Bill Schwartz; Mickey Allweiss; and Doug Thornton, raised $40,000 and started what would become an annual tradition—the Tour de Lis, a cycling event to raise money and awareness about cancer survival, support and research.

Unfortunately, inclement weather has also been a tradition, causing the race to be rescheduled its second year. Now the race’s route is being moved to City Park due to Corps of Engineers construction along the lake levees. No one said there wouldn’t be obstacles in any fight against cancer, and race organizers hope the move works to their advantage.

The compact venue allows organizers to make the event more visible and adds more opportunities for people to participate. For example, for the first time, organizers will have a walk/run event before the ride to open the Tour de Lis to more than cyclists. There will also be food and live entertainment to create a festival atmosphere, said Asher, who is part of the team organizing the ride.

“We’re hoping that this, like many New Orleans events, becomes part of the New Orleans landscape in the future,” he said. “You’ll think of French Quarter Fest, Jazz Fest, the Crescent City Classic and the Tour de Lis all in the same vein.”

The ride is scheduled for May 8, but organizers are busy signing up participants now. They want to get people involved early to give them a chance to raise as much money as possible. Participants solicit pledges from friends and family. It costs $35 to sign up, and the ride is open to those ages 12 and up. Participants can register online at tourdelis.com.

“The route this year is a loop. It’s going to go around Roosevelt Mall and largely throughout the park. It is a three-mile route,” he said. “You can do one lap, you can do 20 laps. This is not a race. It is a ride with a purpose. If you want to just come out and walk it, that’s great. If you want come out and run it, that’s great. If you want to walk and then do biking, that’s great too. This is not an athletic event per se. It’s an event to raise money for the cancer fight. We call it a ride with a purpose.”

The race’s other mantra is “Healin’ Through Wheelin’,” and organizers have made a significant contribution to three main cancer groups each year: the Cancer Association of Greater New Orleans (CAGNO), the Lance Armstrong Foundation and Planet Cancer. Tour de Lis raised more than $198,000 last year, and its goal is to raise $250,000 this year. “The bulk of the money stays in New Orleans to help cancer survivors through CAGNO,” Asher said.

So far, the group has raised more than $100,000, including a $25,000 corporate donation from a yet-to-be announced sponsor.

“What we’re really looking for are people to sign up and raise money. This is a grassroots effort,” Asher said. “You can create your own Web page using our Web site, and all of the money that can be raised can go through the [Tour de Lis] Web site.” Riders and walkers can honor cancer survivors or love ones who have lost the fight against the disease by wearing race tags with names written on the front.

Asher and his wife started the first ride back in 2007 to honor their cousin, Josh Lipschutz, who had been diagnosed with a recurrence of brain cancer just days after returning from his honeymoon. He was 36 at the time and is now a cancer survivor.

Asher says the first ride was almost a protest against Lipschutz’s cancer and a way for him and his friends to do something to fight back. Now it’s grown to mean so much more.

“It’s an expression of solidarity with the cancer community. It is my way of fighting this dreadful disease. There are too many people that I love that have been touched by cancer. What’s the best way that I can get out there and show them that they are not fighting alone, and that they have my love and support? I don’t know what else to do.”