Cyclists focus on El Tour de Tucson's 37th running


Austin and El Tour de Tucson
Cancer survivor Austin Thacker
completed a Baltimore-to-Seattle
charity bike ride in August. Now,
he's preparing for El Tour de
Tucson on November 23.

When he was just 14, Austin Thacker was diagnosed with stage IV Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. His chances of survival less than 50 percent, Austin missed a year of school as he underwent aggressive chemotherapy, full body and concentrated radiation, seven surgeries and a bone marrow transplant. Fortunately, his older brother was a perfect bone marrow match, giving Austin a new immune system to rid his body of cancer.

Austin credits Dr. Lisa Kopp, Banner – University Medicine pediatric oncologist, for giving him the choice to keep fighting the cancer when initial treatment failed, or to give up. He chose to fight. He was in and out of Banner Children’s Diamond Children’s Medical Center for six months of treatment that at times included stays from 30 to 50 days. Banner – University Medicine pediatric hematology, oncology, and blood and marrow transplant expert, Dr. Emmanuel Katsanis, was Austin’s bone marrow doctor.

Becoming an author was a way to cope, then a way to give back

Austin is quick to express his gratitude for the amazing doctors and nurses at Diamond Children’s who allowed him to be a kid. He recounts walking the hallways singing the soundtrack to “Grease” and “Frozen” to young patients, staff, and family members, and remembers one occasion when he sprayed Dr. Kopp with silly string.

Once his cancer was in remission, Austin found himself coping with a range of emotions. Writing and publishing his own novel in 2018, My Hand Mitten, helped him deal with the post-traumatic stress of facing a life-threatening illness at such a young age. As he continues to learn how to thrive as a survivor, Austin uses portions of royalties and book sales to contribute to pediatric cancer awareness efforts.

Now a sophomore at Grand Canyon University, Austin is a strong advocate for pediatric cancer awareness and support. Last year, he began training for a cross-country charity bike ride, traveling with a group of college-aged students in a 70-day, 4000+ mile ride from Baltimore to Seattle.

El Tour de Tucson

Having completed that ride in August, Austin will now take on the Banner – University Medicine El Tour de Tucson on November 23, three days after his 21st birthday. He finds his inspiration to be a cancer awareness advocate from two sources: friends who have lost the battle with cancer and a desire to inspire those still in the fight.

“My desire is to not only find a cure, but to let go of the past I remember too well, while spreading a message that cancer doesn’t define who you are,” says Austin. “I wish to inspire and show that even if your toes are curling and it is hard to stand, doesn’t mean that one day you wouldn’t bike across the continental United States, and learn how to fly! I want to be an inspiration, and to give hope to the darkest hospital rooms in America. This would be more valuable than all the riches in the world, to show others that nothing is impossible!”

Banner – University Medicine is this year’s title sponsor for the 37th El Tour de Tucson. Held annually the Saturday before Thanksgiving, El Tour is a fundraising adventure ride attracting over 6,000 cyclists of all ages and abilities from throughout the United States and worldwide. Participants are beginners, intermediate, advanced, and professional cyclists riding 100% human powered bicycles.

Banner impacts the lives of thousands on a day-to-day basis and will help do its part in the cycling world later this month, when riders from all over descend on Tucson and Southern Arizona for one of the top 10 best bicycling events in Arizona and the United States. Proceeds benefit Diamond Children’s Medical Center in Tucson.

Join the race

Register here for the Banner - University Medicine El Tour de Tucson and choose your fundraising goal as part of the Ride for Diamond Children’s team. Not a cyclist? You can still support the cause! On the El Tour de Tucson website use the Find a Participant link or click on the Donate button at the top of the page.