Madigan Wolfanger was only 10 years old when her grandmother, Lois Wolfanger, was diagnosed with a form of non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma and came to Pittsburgh from her home in Florida for treatment.
For the next six months after her diagnosis, Lois received intensive chemotherapy and radiation treatments at UPMC Hillman Cancer Center.
“Through a difficult time, she persevered and successfully fought the cancer,” says Madigan, a junior at Shadyside Academy. “She is doing great six years later and is now cancer free. I am so proud of her courage.”
The Fox Chapel teen was so thankful for the outcome that she was inspired to do something to express her gratitude. Something big.
Madigan, 16, an avid bike enthusiast, undertook a personal challenge this summer to log the most miles she’s ever pedaled with a group of 14 fellow bikers and two leaders. From June 24 to Aug. 7, she traveled 3,300 miles across the country on a six-week bicycling journey to raise awareness and funds for cancer research at UPMC Hillman Cancer Center. The trip was organized by Overland Summers.
Her journey took Madigan from Charleston, S.C., to Santa Monica, Calif., to support her goal of raising $10,000 through her GoFundMe site. She not only achieved her goal, she exceeded it, raising a total of $15,515 from friends and family, including her parents, Sally and Craig Wolfanger, who gave $1,000 to her cause.
Her grandmother made a $2,000 donation and posted a message on her site:
“Madigan, I am so proud of you and your efforts to raise funds for cancer research at the UPMC Hillman Cancer Center. A tremendous effort and ambitious challenge you are undertaking for a wonderful cause. I am very thankful for the advanced research and wonderful care that I received at the Hillman Center. Thank you for your incredible initiative, we are cheering for you all the way!”
The GoFundMe site remains active and is accepting donations.
“What Madigan accomplished is really extraordinary and is an inspiration to our patients, their families, and our physicians,” says Jennifer Griffin, principal gifts officer for UPMC Hillman Cancer Center. “To know the sheer determination that she exemplified – all in the honor of the care her grandmother received – is phenomenal. It will have a magnifier effect on our clinicians, scientists, and others in caring for our patients.”
Madigan admits her journey wasn’t easy.
“The heat was definitely an issue – with temperatures sometimes as high as 105 degrees – especially with dehydration and different terrains,” she says. “The Great Plains was very windy, the Mojave Desert was very hot, and the Rocky Mountains was a challenge in itself. One of the hardest days was in Wolf Creek Pass, Colorado, where we climbed to an altitude of 11,000 feet.”
The bike riders averaged 85 miles a day, ranging from 36 to 123 miles a day, depending on conditions. Cell phones and other electronics were prohibited during the trip.
Her parents were concerned about the endeavor at first.
“When she told us what she wanted to do, my husband and I looked at each other, but we agreed we have to let her follow her dreams,” says Mom, who was the most worried two weeks into the trip when she received a phone call from the road. Madigan was involved in an accident when the rider in front of her went off the lip of the road traveling at 18 miles per hour.
“I hit my head pretty hard and had road rash on my arm,” Madigan says. But after a hospital visit, she was back on her bike the next day.
The best part of the adventure, Madigan says, was reaching the Santa Monica pier, where the group celebrated with a ceremonial dash into the ocean, each with a bike wheel in hand. Dusty, hot and tired, the ocean splash was a welcome refresher for a job well done.