County’s 100-mile bike ride continues to raise funds to combat deadly disease
WHEN Robert Wilhite talks about the Jackson County Brevet, his words turn spiritual.
Already the nation’s largest aplastic anemia fundraising benefit, the cycling event’s rapid growth since 2010 leaves Wilhite both thankful and in awe.
“If it weren’t for the good lord above … ” said Wilhite, the event’s founder and organizer. “Why he chose to pour out incredible blessing on us and this event, I don’t know why.”
The 100-mile bicycle ride (not a race) returns to Jackson County June 16.
The Jackson County Brevet could have struggled along like other fundraisers but hasn’t. A sellout of all 1,500 slots is expected for year three. That’s up from about 1,000 cyclists last year and 600 in the 2010 inaugural event.
“It’s just a dramatic difference with what’s going on with the Jackson County Brevet,” said Wilhite, an accomplished cyclist. “It’s mind-boggling.”
Wilhite’s wife, Kelly, was diagnosed in the mid-1980s — at age 19 — with aplastic anemia. The disease occurs when the bone marrow stops making enough blood-forming stem cells. The lack of any new treatment option in the last 25 years motivated Wilhite to start the Jackson County Brevet.
The bike ride through the rolling terrain of Jackson County raised $25,000 in its first year and $61,800 in its second year — well above the goal of $40,000.
A sell-out this year would bring in even higher dollar amounts. Registration for the last eight weeks is up over 100 percent compared to last year.
“So a sellout looks pretty eminent,” Wilhite said.
Being the nation’s largest aplastic anemia benefit, the Jackson County Brevet has attracted attention accordingly. John Huber executive director at Aplastic Anemia and MDS International Foundation, attended last year’s event and may attend this year’s too. “Obviously, being one of the largest fundraising events for aplastic anemia in the entire United States, has caught 100 percent of the attention of the foundation’s office,” Wilhite said. “We’ve got their full support. We’re going to make a difference.”
This year’s ride will be very similar to last year’s. In fact, the routes haven’t changed. Wilhite did add a 22-mile option in addition to the five, 39, 64 and 100-mile routes.
The terrain of the Brevet is such that a sub-four hour century ride is possible. Wilhite said he’s not been able to confirm that anyone has done it yet, however.
Wilhite is asking that county motorists practice patience on June 16. Approximately 1,500 cyclists taking to the highways will cause delays, he said.
“They need to be aware that there’s going to be 1,500 cyclists converge on Jackson County on the 16th and that they just need to be prepared to slow down, to be cautious,” he said.
The major highway sections drivers need to be wary of are Old Pendergrass Road (from one end to the other), Hwy. 335 (from Jefferson to where it crosses over Hwy. 441) and Hwy. 332.
“We’re strongly suggesting that people find an alternate route,” Wilhite said.
Wilhite notes another major item for motorists. Georgia passed a law in July of last year, requiring that vehicles give three-foot clearance when passing cyclists, starting from the passenger’s side mirror.
“There hasn’t been a lot of education to motorists about this new law in general,” Wilhite said.
That said, Wilhite and the Brevet organizers are excited about another century ride. He noted that this year’s newest wrinkle — official Jackson County Brevet apparel — has proven quite popular. Twenty to 25 percent of those registered have purchased at least a jersey.
“So we’re off the charts on that by comparison,” he said, noting that five percent is the norm for an event like this.”
Wilhite said there are no words to describe his feelings about the event’s success, other to say that it’s the most humbling experience in his life.
“I wouldn’t even know where to start,” he said. “What I will tell you is, ‘have we worked our butts off?’ You better believe it.”
Wilhite said the event needs 125 volunteers and is about 50 shy right now. The main need is for 5-8 a.m. shift workers to process the cyclists.
“We need some serious help,” Wilhite said.
Those interested can contact Wilhite by emailing email@example.com and putting “I want to volunteer” in subject line.