There are two things which one might say about Oakdale’s Mel Bradley and his passion. He is passionate for coaching cyclists and passionate for raising money.
Both the money and the cycling, however, may not be what one might initially think. Bradley doesn’t coach cyclists to win races, to the contrary he does exactly the opposite. He coaches cyclists of all physical levels to finish a goal and raise money for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society as they do it.
The mastermind behind Team 209, Bradley took a team of 46 riders around Lake Tahoe the first weekend in June to participate in what’s known as America’s Most Beautiful Bike Ride - Lake Tahoe, which partners with the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society’s Team In Training’s (TNT) Cycle 100 event.
Coming off the pandemic and two years without events, the team of 46 was a smaller team than previous years. Seventeen of the 46 riders were new to cycling. A total of 48 helped raise a total of over $445,000 for the 2022 season.
“I always lose a percentage of the team but it’s always been able to grow,” Bradley said of the drop in riders since 2020’s team of 79. “This year it’s probably the biggest thing I struggle with, how to recruit.”
The amount raised however, has encouraged the TNT coach and advocate for the coming year ahead.
First starting his journey as a rider following the loss of his wife of 36 years in 2005 to Acute Myeloid Leukemia, Bradley joined a TNT group based out of Sacramento in 2006. By 2012 he started his own TNT cycle team in Oakdale. Since its inception in 2012, Team 209 has raised a total of $2,460,000 and covered countless miles in the name of raising funds for cancer research.
Bradley shared the recent fundraising effort of close to a half million dollars by his 2022 team inspired his goal of reaching $3 million by the June 2023 event.
“This will be my 18th season,” he said, as he prepares to ramp up his sponsorship efforts. “There are two real reasons that I keep coming back. One of them is, watching people come across that finish line at Tahoe, accomplishing something they had no idea they could do.”
The TNT advocate shared often times new riders say they can’t ride around the block, let alone Lake Tahoe; then he shows them they can. Or they may say they don’t have a bike and he has the answer to that, too.
Bradley shared often times those same people who didn’t think they could ride, become addicted to riding and eventually upgrade the basic bikes they’ve purchased. In turn, Bradley purchases the entry level bikes from them. Through past participants he now has a garage of a dozen bikes that he can lend to new riders and it simply goes from there.
The trip around the lake has two distances; a 72- or 100-mile distance. The cyclist shared the 100 was always his distance until he realized the 72 miles allows him to see each member of his team cross the finish.
“I’ve done the hundred 15 times, the last few years I thought, what am I proving,” he said, laughing as he stated it. Bradley added he likes to be at the finish to greet his riders.
And while recruitment has started for the 2023 team, the 18 weeks of training won’t begin until late January. One doesn’t raise close to $2.5 million over the course of 10 years, however, without some heavy hitters and that’s where his passion for sponsorships comes in.
“It’s almost a full-time job,” he said. “I have a small business of my own, every now and then I’ll go out and work for a few days, but in general it’s this.”
And his involvement is something that comes with its own benefits.
“I believe so much in what they’re doing with the money,” he said of the fundraising for the team. “The whole idea of immunotherapy. If you think about a blood cancer (physically speaking), it’s everywhere. Some of the techniques, you can’t operate on it, you can’t radiate it, so you’re limited.”
Bradley shared that through the help of funds raised by passionate people such as himself and his team, Immunotherapy was a result of blood cancer researchers. A treatment type which is now being used as well as looked at by other cancer researchers and specialists.
“For blood cancers it’s been very successful,” he continued. “Survival rates have gone through the roof compared to the good ol’ days. Now what’s interesting is the solid tumor guys are the looking at the idea and saying if that will work on a blood cancer, will that work on a solid tumor cancer?”
As Bradley shares stories of successes he knows firsthand, emotion overtakes him. Apologizing for not being able to control it, he shared it’s the one thing he can’t explain. Something about the cause and the mission keep the emotion very close to the surface.
Eighteen years later and happily remarried, the pain of watching a loved one endure treatment, only to succumb to the disease is still very real for him.
“You don’t get over this. You just don’t,” he said of the cancer battle. “As hard as it is at times … good things have come as a result of the loss and the new relationship.”
Coaching the team, seeing riders achieve the goal and adding more funds to the fundraising pot are what keeps Bradley ticking.
This year’s ride, he noted, featured cold and rainy weather. Not a norm for the time of the year or even something a rider can properly train for. The cycling enthusiast shared the riding conditions were as miserable as one could imagine for a stretch of time with no break from weather.
“As miserable as it was, we all kept saying to ourselves this is nothing like laying in a bed getting chemo,” he said through tears, “and not one rider quit.”
As the coach shares his pride for his riders, he also noted his hope to build the team back to what it once was, coaching as many as 79 in 2020. That and reaching that $3 million goal, one sponsor and one rider at a time.
To learn more about Team 209, as well as contact Bradley for more information visit www.Team209.org.