Running races together is something the Garner family likes to do. This year, they decided to register for the Disney Marathon in January 2021 and to raise money for a cause while they trained for it. Yet drawing attention to their chosen charity, A-T Children’s Project, which supports research for a cure for ataxia-telangiectasia, a rare, complex genetic neurodegenerative disorder that usually impacts children. But research for the cure will also likely provide help for other diseases, like Parkinson’s, which has impacted members of the Garner family, said James Garner Jr. ’15.
But drawing attention to their cause in the midst of a pandemic and protests over social justice issues would likely be difficult, they knew. Then James came up with an idea after seeing a neighbor and his son ride by his family’s New Albany home on a tandem bicycle. By that evening, James and his younger brother came up with a plan to buy a tandem bike and ride it to Asheville, N.C., where their family was vacationing for the July 4 weekend.
“We had to do something a little absurd to get (people’s) attention, and it seems like two guys on a bright yellow bike were able to do just that,” said James, who works in asset and risk management at Magnolia Bank in Elizabethtown.
He found a 1990s Santana Fusion bike on Facebook Marketplace, and the brothers mapped out their course, which took them from New Albany, across the Big Four Bridge into Louisville, down Bardstown Road to U.S. 150 through Kentucky, across the Cumberland Gap into Tennessee, and through the Smoky Mountains over four days.
Their first stop was in Danville, home of Centre College, where James earned his degree in economics and finance in May 2019. James posted information and photos from the trip on Facebook and Instagram to draw attention to the cause, and people began to respond with donations and words of encouragement.
“I would also do some Q&As on my social media and got some great questions like ‘How many drops of sweat did it take to get to London, Ky.?’” he said. “Some back-of-the-napkin math tells me it took about 333,000 drops of sweat.”
After the second day, they stopped in London, Ky., where his younger brother, David, felt ill and decided to stop riding. James decided to ride on and finish the 350-mile trip, which meant biking up and over the Cumberland Gap and through the Smokies — 22,000 feet of vertical — by himself.
“(It) was a pretty big effort – 108 miles on a tandem by yourself can definitely test your mettle,” he said.
The bike trip is over, having raised more than $2,000 for A-T research, but the family’s training and fundraising is not. Alumni members of his family training for the Disney Marathon include his father, James Sr. ’91; sister Dr. Rebecca Garner ’12, aunts Dr. Kathryn “Kitty” Garner ’78 and Anne (Garner) Offutt ’87, and cousin Mary (Garner) Casey ’07.
For James, having completed the ride, especially the last half alone, is good preparation for the family’s marathon and inspiration for more fun fundraising activities in the future.
“The overwhelming support I received from family, friends and strangers along the way made this trip one that I will not soon forget,” he said. “The trip helped me realize how truly privileged I am to have such caring communities, including the Providence High School community, around me. The little things, like having parents of friends I went to high school with reach out to me with words of encouragement, meant the world to me on this trip, and I cannot thank them enough.”
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