Steamboat cyclist Amy Jenkins completes bike ride across America, with a few surprises along the way | VailDaily.com

Steamboat cyclist Amy Jenkins completes bike ride across America, with a few surprises along the way

Audrey Dwyer
Steamboat Pilot & Today
photo - Amy Jenkins embraces her sister Cindy Balthesar

Amy Jenkins embraces her sister Cindy Balthesar, who traveled to Steamboat Springs from California to celebrate and surprise Jenkins for the ride from San Diego, California, to St. Augustine, Florida.

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS – A crowd gathered in the Champagne Room of Rex’s American Grill in Steamboat Springs on Saturday night.

The excitement was palpable as they waited for Amy Jenkins to walk through the door.

Jenkins was under the impression she was at Rex’s to listen to a friend play live music. Instead, friends, family and new acquaintances, who had traveled to Steamboat Springs from as far away as Alaska and California, were there to yell, “Surprise!”

“I wish I had the words – there are no words,” Jenkins said, her eyes welling up with tears as she stared at the room full of people.

“This is the why – they are my why,” said Jenkins, motioning to the room full of people.

The group had gathered to celebrate Jenkins' 2,939-mile, 46-day Trans-America Cycling ride across America, which stretched from San Diego, California, to St. Augustine, Florida.

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Averaging 68 miles a day, Jenkins was not only riding for herself but was riding for three people in her life she almost lost. She rode as a way to raise money and awareness for Be the Match, a bone marrow registry that provides a life-saving treatment for more than 70 diseases, including leukemia, lymphoma and sickle cell.

“They may not have known it at the time, every person in this room helped carry me through each day,” she continued. “Whether it was them saying, 'Atta girl, keep going,' in that moment, that one little thing was all I needed to say to myself, 'Let’s keep going. I can do this.’"

“Everyone, they just arrived,” said Lauren Jenkins, Amy’s daughter, who helped plan the surprise party with her dad, Larry Jenkins.

The ride was a bucket list dream for Amy Jenkins, an avid cyclist who has biked in Croatia, Italy and Vietnam but never across the U.S. The ride was a way she could raise money, awareness and encourage others to join the Be the Match registry.

At the surprise party, Jenkins delivered a $14,000 check to Joy King, executive director of Be The Match Foundation, who traveled all the way from Minneapolis to be there.

King said the funding would allow about 10 people to register for the test kit that allows people to be on the registry. The financial gift would also go toward assisting patients with uninsured transplant costs and fund innovative research to improve transplant outcomes.

Seventy percent of patients do not have a matching donor in their family, King explained. They depend on Be The Match to find an unrelated marrow donor and receive the transplant they need.

“We’re so grateful for what Amy has done, but this has also validated the huge support system,” King said. “What she did was over and beyond — not only physically and mentally but then was able to engage other supporters along the way.”

Bob Falkenberg is a fellow Be the Match fundraiser who was at the celebration Saturday. He created Team Lifeblood in 2011 to raise money to fight cancer via cycling and fundraising. Since then, he has ridden over 10,000 miles to raise awareness and funds. He celebrates nine years since his last bone marrow transplant.

“Before I had my transplant, I remember sitting in the waiting area of the clinic, and this guy walked in chatting with people here and there, smiling — I thought he was someone’s family member,” Falkenberg said. “Then they asked him when his transplant was, and he said 'it was 100 days ago.' In that moment, I thought to myself, 'OK, I can do this.'”

At the beginning of the ride in San Diego, the group of 10 strangers dipped their rear tires in the Pacific Ocean, then at the end in Florida, they dipped their front tires in the Atlantic Ocean.

“Interestingly, it started being all about the goal and the accomplishment,” Jenkins said. “At some point that changed, it became less about the goal and more about the people."

The simplicity of the ride, the places and the people Jenkins said she’s already missing it.

“I was at the airport in St. Augustine already Googling what’s next,” said Jenkins.

To reach Audrey Dwyer, call 970-871-4229, email adwyer@SteamboatToday.com or follow her on Twitter @Audrey_Dwyer1.