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Riding with joy in honor of a beloved mother
The first time Laura Bingle rode in the Seattle to Portland Bicycle Classic in 2007, her mother Joyce Kaup thought she was nuts.
Getting on the saddle of a bike started small enough. Bingle certainly never thought it would lead to the STP, as it’s affectionately known, but it has led to something even bigger since 2008.
It began in March 2007 when Bingle’s mom was diagnosed with ovarian cancer, just a few months after Kaup’s gynecologist gave her a clean bill of health.
“They call it the silent killer,” Bingle said. “The symptoms are bloating. So, she was really bloated and she had no appetite. At first, they misdiagnosed it as IBS, so they gave her meds for that and after four to six weeks it wasn’t working.”
By that point, the cancer had progressed to stage four, Bingle said. Her parents lived in Spokane. Bingle had just started a job with Alaska Airlines in January.
“My first benefits trip was to Spokane,” she said. “I worked Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights then got on a plane Sunday morning and stayed with my mom and dad Sunday, Monday, Tuesday. My poor kids, I was a stay at home mom for 14 years then I got a job and my mom got sick.”
Bingle had to deal with the stress of the situation, so, she found an old beater bicycle and started riding. It was just a few miles at a time at first. Then her husband, who had just started working at REI, was looking for some kind of activity or sport to get involved with, Bingle explained.
“I said, ‘Let’s go get bikes and spandex and be real riders,’” Bingle said. “Before I knew it I was riding 20 miles, 30 miles, 40 miles and I would ride the Cedar River Trail often in the mornings before work.”
One day she met a couple of guys on the trail who told her about STP. She went home and registered for the event.
“Then I never saw those guys again,” she said. “I went home and told my husband, ‘I’m doing this. I’m going to camp. You’re going to follow me and be my support.”
In July 2007, Bingle rode the STP for the first time, by herself with her husband supporting her. It was a gesture of support for her mom’s battle with cancer. Kaup, however, thought her daughter was nuts.
A year later, Bingle’s husband rode with her, just seven months after Kaup succumbed to the ovarian cancer — her fight against the disease was brief, just nine months.
“The second year it was my husband and I,” Bingle said. “It was in memory of my mom.”
Bingle’s sister Jeanne, who lives in Tacoma, served as the support. A year later, Jeanne rode in the STP, and thanks to cycling has lost 120 pounds, Bingle said.
“With diet and exercise, the weight man, it was just flying off her,” Bingle said of her sister. “I had a spare bike by then because I had upgraded. We started doing 10 mile rides, 15 mile rides. She now rides more than I do. She’s a beast.”
It was in 2009 that Team Joy was born.
“We decided to do something, to make a team,” Bingle said. “I think we had 13 or 14 riders. We decided to raise as much money as we could and gave it to Gilda’s Club. We didn’t do a big fundraiser or sell things, we just sent out letters. It’s like a little flame ignites under you when you realize what you can do.”
Gilda’s Club Seattle, founded in 2002, offers free services and support to anyone affected by cancer. According to the Seattle facility’s website, “Gilda’s Club is named in honor of Gilda Radner, who, when describing the emotional and social support she received when she had cancer, called for such places of participation, education, hope and friendship to be made available for people with cancer and their families and friends everywhere.”
Bingle has become a major supporter of the Seattle facility. She asks that members of the team raise $300 somehow, which will go to Gilda’s Club, and there a number of ways to do that. In addition, Bingle hosts a fundraiser at her home every year, just a little party at her house in July, as she described it. A year ago $17,000 was raised at her little party.
Since forming Team Joy, according to its website (www.teamjoyrocks.com), more than $50,000 has been raised for Gilda’s Club.
“Every year it gets bigger and bigger,” Bingle said. “Last year we had 25 riders. We have people coming from San Diego, Washington, D.C., San Francisco and Spokane. I expect to have 25 to 30 riders.”
It doesn’t end there, though, Bingle said. She plans to do a ride called the Dempsey Challenge in Maine in October.
Named for actor Patrick Dempsey, of ‘Grey’s Anatomy’ fame, the event benefits the Patrick Dempsey Cancer Center for Hope and Healing in Lewiston, Maine, which provides free support, education and integrative medicine services to anyone impacted by cancer, according to the event’s website.
Bingle, who works in the Alaska Airlines Board Room at SeaTac International Airport, met Dempsey about four years ago when the medical drama did some filming there.
“I didn’t know his mom was a survivor or about the Dempsey Center but I knew he was a cyclist,” Bingle said. “I sent an email to them a few months ago telling them that we wanted to do a ride on the East coast because that’s where my brother lives … so we wanted to do something back there to involve all of his people.”
During a conference call with Dempsey and organizers of the ride, Bingle said, she told him he has to wear the Team Joy jersey.
“This beautiful picture of my mother is on the back,” Bingle said. “When we ride and people are coming up on us, the first thing they see is her face and they ask ‘Who is that?’ Because she has such an infectious smile.”
In addition to the white jerseys which have black and teal accents along with a teal ribbon, which represents ovarian cancer, Bingle explained, Team Joy also wore pink and teal tutus during STP in 2012.
Bingle hopes others will join the team or support the cause. There have been folks who have ridden just once with Team Joy and others who have signed up every year. Last year her husband logged his 1,000th STP mile while her sister will log hers this year, a milestone that happens the fifth time someone does the event, while Bingle’s 17-year-old daughter will ride for the third year.
“It’s really cool that in just five years it went from one little sad lady riding her bicycle to this big thing,” Bingle said.