A purple bike: Widower spreads awareness on miles of gravel road

They say grief looks different for everyone, and for Tim White, it looks like miles of gravel roads and a purple bike.

March 10, 2015, White’s wife Tina passed away from pancreatic cancer and in November 2019 White said he let Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month and go by, not really thinking too much about it.

Upset about having not thought about the month dedicated to fighting the illness that impacted him and his family dramatically, White said he remembered a documentary he saw about a man who biked for his sick wife and he made a decision. 

Having biked since receiving an Evel Knievel bike at seven — though a bit more seriously in the past ten or so years — White thought to combine biking with honoring Tina. 

It started with a promise to donate a certain amount of money, whatever he could afford, for every mile he rode. Soon White was put buying and assembling a variety of purple accents, including a customized purple stem cap with Tina’s signature and “I love you” engraved into it, all to coordinate with his custom-designed jersey and bike shorts.

“I think because of it I think of Tina, I think of Tina a lot. But in this context, you know, I can look down at that stem cap, that’s her signature. And that means something to me,” White said. “Honestly where I spend time with Tina is when I’m out on the bike.” 

White’s son, Ethan White said that what his dad is doing for his mom makes him proud. When watching White get up and go biking in below freezing and when organizing a unique way to remember his mom, Ethan said it makes him want to be like him.

The purple bike and purple jersey were not simply symbols of White’s personal journey, however. Awareness about pancreatic cancer and about the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network, Pan Can, are significant motivations for White.

White’s wife Tina had pancreatic cancer for around 17 months prior to her passing, and White said one of his goals is to spread awareness on what pancreatic cancer really looks like.

“When you get diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, in a lot of… cases it’s a death sentence… you have months,” White said. “I don’t think people understand. They think cancer, you go through chemo and radiation da da da, this, this one is like nothing else.” 

White said that he hoped that through the gravel riding races he attends he could have conversations, even with just a few people, about why he rides a purple accented bike and a purple jersey that says “I wear purple for her.” Through those conversations he could start more conversations: on social media, in person, links shared, anything that would increase engagement and knowledge about pancreatic cancer.

“I think she would be proud that I’m at least raising awareness,” White said. “When she was sick, she was like, I don’t want people to forget that I was here. So in this context, I think this is something where people won’t forget that she was here. So that, I think, would make her proud.”

White’s best friend and frequent companion when biking Sara Moxley said that she knew White was looking for a way to put all of his energy into something for Tina.

“I’ve been kind of waiting for him to come up with something because I know he’s been, he’s needed this, you know, for his process of going through this,” Moxley said.

Unfortunately, White’s first race in the whole kit did not go as planned. It was cold and rainy. White said he had to wear an orange jacket over his purple jersey. Not exactly the start he had been hoping for. 

His next event, one White said he had been most looking forward to due to the intimate nature, was the Dirty Kanza Training Camp. The four-day small group training environment would be the perfect opportunity to share what he is doing and start those conversations. Not to mention that a large portion of those in attendance are often social media influencers in the biking community, the perfect way to share his story beyond those he knows personally. Dirty Kanza Training Camp was canceled due to COVID-19.

White has a schedule of gravel races that goes throughout the gravel biking season and a goal of 3500 miles for this year, but at this point, all of those races are in unknown status. 

So for now, social media is White’s home base. 

Ethan said that the social media posting has been something that connects their fairly large extended family together to remember and celebrate Tina. 

Moxley said that, while White isn’t asking others to donate of Pan Can, if he posted that he made a donation and bike rides he’s been on while social distancing, she and other friends would likely donate as well. 

White is even reaching people outside of those he knows just through social media. White said that he shared his story with Lynskey, a bicycle company that White purchased the purple accents for his bike from, and they shared some of his posts on their page.

Though the races were canceled and social media is his only way to connect and spread awareness, White said that there will be more races and more Dirty Kanza Camps. White’s story, after all, isn’t completed after this year.

He’s not the best at social media, White said, and he doesn’t have time to fully dedicate himself to cycling, but he started a journey and it won’t end any time soon.

“There’s no end to grief, there was no end to awareness,” White said. “There’s no end to understanding the impact of cancer and pancreatic cancer.”

Story written for my Journalism 1400 class March 2020

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