In 2011, Justin Akin set off on a bike ride that was to be 1,216 miles between Amarillo, TX and Chicago, IL. He was riding his bike in memory of his sons Matthew and Andrew who both lost their lives to a condition called hemophagocytic lymphohistiocytosis (HLH). That ride ended on the second day of what was planned to be a 15 day ride when Justin crashed and broke his shoulder just one mile shy of that day’s end point. Justin went home to St. Louis to care for his shoulder, but he vowed that he would be back and he would finish what he started.
The following year, he did just that and rode 700 miles between Clinton, OK and St. Louis, MO. He was joined that year by his close friend Patrick and Doug, a father who had recently lost his daughter also to HLH. The experience of riding with a fellow HLH father, made it clear to Justin that there were probably many more people who have been affected and would also like to ride in honor and memory of their kids, as well as raise HLH awareness and money for research.
So, in 2013 he put out the call for riders and not surprisingly, people responded. That year, 5 riders completed 700 Miles to Hope. Justin and Doug were joined by Dennis and Olivier, fathers whose kids survived HLH, and Sean Feltoe, a young adult who is himself a survivor. Their route started in Natchez, MS and ended here, at Cincinnati Children’s, where Justin and his wife, Kristin, presented a $100,000 check from the Matthew and Andrew Akin Foundation to the HLH Center of Excellence.
Last year, the usual suspects were joined by many new people who heard about the ride and felt inspired to join the cause. Among the new riders were three Cincinnati Children’s employees who share a love of long-distance cycling and have meaningful connections to HLH patients. The 2014 riders rode the same 700 miles that the team did in 2013. That route works well because the Natchez Trace Parkway, which runs from Natchez, MS to Nashville, TN, is a perfect road for bicycling.
Now, in 2015, the riders are out again this week on the Natchez Trace Parkway, raising awareness and funds to support the HLH Center of Excellence.
Nine Cincinnati Children’s employees – are riding this year and Sam Chamberlin, the father of an HLH survivor has joined the ride for the first time as well. The entire group will arrive here at the medical center on Friday afternoon, again with a sizable check to support the important work our HLH team is doing clinically and with research.
You can keep up with the progress of the ride via social media. The riders and organizations associated with the ride are using #700MilestoHope on their updates on both Twitter and Facebook. The team will dedicate each day’s ride to a child who is affected by HLH and those videos will be posted each morning on the 700 Miles to Hope homepage and on the Matthew and Andrew Akin Foundation Facebook page. The Cincinnati Children’s Facebook page and the HLH Center of Excellence Facebook page also have updates from the road. Please take a few minutes to “Meet the Riders” and consider supporting their efforts.
We are honored to be part of this event and wish each of the riders a safe conclusion to their journey.