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Candlelighters at Tygh Valley Rally

It’s not uncommon for cycling clubs or teams to promote themselves as though they are a “family” of riders enjoying the sport in close connection. The Candlelighters Ride For a Child crew is bound by family terms much greater than their connections to one another, it’s their service to families that binds them so closely. Here at Cycle Oregon, we are honored for these riders to have made a family home at our events. For 20 years now, the Ride For A Child team have fundraised through their riding to make a difference for local families facing childhood cancer.

Since 1977, Candlelighters has supported more than 85,000 family members across Oregon and SW Washington, and is still the only local organization that provides for the ENTIRE family throughout the lifelong journey of childhood cancer, from diagnosis through treatment and beyond.

We look forward to welcoming Ride For A Child at September’s Tygh Valley Rally and recently spoke with Angela Griffin-Meyers from Candlelighters for Children with Cancer for a quick look back at how RFAC began and what is happening for 2021.

Cycle Oregon: First and foremost, we are thrilled to welcome the RFAC team to Tygh Valley Rally.

Candlelighters: Thank you, we are excited to be back! We anticipate 20 riders for the Tygh Valley Rally.  All are long time Cycle Oregon riders who have been inspired by Dick Hartung’s 20 year history of fundraising through riding with Cycle Oregon.  

Last year was tough (as you know!)  without a Cycle Oregon event, but our dedicated riders still rode and fundraised through a pledge site. Cycle Oregon has been such an integral part of this fundraising event from the very beginning, and we are so appreciative of this long-standing partnership. 

This year, we’re excited to get back to seeing riders in person, and there is still an online only option for those who want to fundraise at their own pace.

Cycle Oregon: What is the mission of Candlelighters and how do bicycles play a role in that mission?

Candlelighters: Our mission is to provide a community of healing, hope and light throughout the life-long journey of childhood cancer. Although bicycles are not part of our mission per se, the Ride for a Child event was started by a Candlelighter, Dick Hartung, to raise money for the organization. It’s now our biggest fundraiser, and there are deep ties between the riders, sponsors, and Candlelighters families. 

Dick Hartung, (in yellow), welcoming an Honored Child for a Cycle Oregon Ride Out

Cycle Oregon: Dick Hartung has been a fixture in the Cycle Oregon community for two decades; how did he get this rolling?

Candlelighters: Dick founded Ride for a Child in 2002. His daughter, Jill, had passed away from Osteosarcoma in 1997, at the age of 9. By 2002, he had recovered enough to lend  support to the organization that had comforted their family on their journey, Candlelighters, by serving on the board as VP of Development. His task was fundraising, and though he had not ridden his bike much, he decided to ride Cycle Oregon’s weeklong Classic, fundraising for Candlelgihters in honor of Jill. His friends, family and colleagues came through with overwhelming support, raising $12,000 for Candlelighters. The following year, friends and family wanted to join, and they decided to call their team Ride for a Child. This year marks 20 years of riding, and more than $2.5 million raised for Candlelighters.

Dick is currently training and fundraising for RFAC, his Honored Child is Elio, though he will not be at the event this September. His wedding anniversary has historically overlapped with Cycle Oregon in September and this year it does once again. With 2021 marking their 40th, he wants to celebrate with his wife, Denise. He’s asked me to share with everyone at Cycle Oregon that they both agree he’ll be back in the saddle for next year’s event!

Cycle Oregon: Candlelighters mission is to support the entire family, that’s such an important and impactful distinction, though the organization does highlight Honored Children for each ride. Who are those children for Tygh Valley Rally?

Candlelighters: Each year, we have a group of around 5-8 “honored children”, kids from the Candlelighters community who are or have recently faced cancer. The riders ride for an honored child’s “team”, and share the story of the honored child to fundraise and build awareness. They also encourage the child by writing letters, meeting for a group ride, sometimes parties or video shoutouts For this year we have Sol, Nathan, Xavier, Phoenix, Faith, Grant, Elio, & Rialee.

Although we choose honored children each year, the RFAC fundraiser benefits all  Candlelighters Families. The funds raised allow us to support families throughout Oregon and SW Washington, through programs that provide financial assistance, building community and connection through various group gatherings and in-hospital programs.  In 2020, ninety cents of every dollar donated went toward programs and services.

As strong as any pro team out there…

Cycle Oregon: Some of our riders may recall visits in camp from Honored Children. What can we expect in 2021?

Candlelighters: In years past, we have held the “Ride Out” where honored children visit the riders at camp, do a short ride together and then have dinner. This year, with all the unknowns around COVID, and immune-compromised children involved, we are having a Ride Out and group event closer to home so that it’s more convenient and, with fewer people, safe for the kids to attend. 

Cycle Oregon: Candlelighters wear a distinctive custom cycling kit and it’s lovely to see the team riding together in big groups wearing these uniforms. How do new jersey designs develop?

Candlelighters: For the past 4 years, our ride chair David Leslie, and his brother Bryan have worked together as designer and producer. The process and idea of designing them is how to make them work with different years and kits from the past. The goal is to have recognizable RFAC brand kit, while giving each year its own flavor.  Designs always feature our Ride for a Child logo with the rider and yellow ribbon, as well as our sponsors. 

Cycle Oregon: What can riders who are interested in participating with Ride For a Child do now or at the event?

Candlelighters:  For now, we encourage sign ups – we are looking to grow our team, and it’s not too late to Ride for a Child this year. Riders can learn more on our RFAC website. Folks interested in getting news on RFAC in the future can sign up for our newsletter on our website and follow us on Facebook .

Cycle Oregon: Thank you, Candlelighters and Ride For a Child, we are looking forward to riding together once again and for the time we can share together in camp.

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