There are many reasons why people are taking part in the Texas 4000, a bicycle ride from Texas to Alaska designed to raise cancer awareness.
For Henderson native Michael Tatalovich, it’s about spreading a message of hope after personally battling the disease.
“For me, hope was almost like a stubbornness,” he said. “I would never let myself think I wouldn’t make it through. Now, I want to share my story.”
The Coronado High School graduate, who attends the University of Texas at Austin, started the 4,000-mile ride June 3.
In addition to riding through the country to talk about cancer research, he is also sharing his story.
Tatalovich was a normal 17-year-old before his life changed. He was on track to being class valedictorian, taking Advanced Placement classes and enjoying extracurricular activities such as volleyball and photography.
But then he started experiencing a pain in his left hip.
“It was just a nuisance at first,” he said.
As it grew, his parents took him to various doctors trying to find out what was wrong, but they received no solid answer. Then one day when he was swimming, he felt a pop.
“When I got out of the pool, I couldn’t put weight down on my leg,” he said.
His parents took him to another doctor, who gave him a biopsy. He was diagnosed with Ewing’s sarcoma, a rare form of cancer, in May 2013. Tumor cells were growing on his hip bone, but the doctors had caught it early.
“I was still out of it when they told me,” he said. “It almost didn’t register.”
Once he returned home from the hospital, it finally hit him what was happening.
“I just remember crying and wanting to be left alone,” he said. “It was surreal.”
Ten days later, he started chemotherapy, which lasted through the majority of his senior year. Because of the chemo, Tatalovich had to finish his courses online.
“It changed things for me,” he said.
Chemotherapy ended in March 2014 as Tatalovich began thinking about college. He dreamed of going away and had his sights set on the University of Texas at Austin.
During a campus visit, he saw a speaker talk about the Texas 4000.
“I filed that in the back of my mind,” he said of the cycling event.
Though still using a cane, and with his hair still growing back, Tatalovich began college that fall, embracing an abundance of questions from new classmates. During his sophomore year, he decided to apply to be a part of Texas 4000. He added that many people apply.
“For some rides, they have faced cancer personally,” he said. “Some have had family members go through it.”
In addition to the bicycle ride, Texas 4000 is an 18-month program designed to mobilize students at the University of Texas in the fight against cancer. Each student has to raise $4,500, volunteer more than 50 hours in the community and take part in training for the ride.
Though Tatalovich said he still has issues with his leg, he persevered with training to get in shape.
“It’s been hard at times,” he said. “Cycling can be pretty demanding. But I feel pretty good and prepared for this summer.”
To reach Henderson View reporter Michael Lyle, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 702-387-5201. Find him on Twitter: @mjlyle.