Biking for a cure

Courage Ride is a local bike ride to raise funds and awareness for sarcoma cancer.


Photo Courtesy of Courage Ride

A bike leans against a fence next to a Courage Ride banner

During late summer in the center of Iowa City, you can find a special event full of heart, energy and purpose. People come together from across Iowa, and sometimes even further, to participate in Courage Ride, an annual bike ride to raise funds and awareness for sarcoma cancer research. Beginning at Big Grove in Iowa City, routes for the event take you across the countryside and back, and all proceeds from the event go to the Holden Comprehensive Cancer Center Sarcoma Research Program, the sole National Cancer Institute (NCI) designated center in Iowa.

Leora Houghton, the director of Courage Ride, has been involved with the event since the beginning. She’s a friend of Jackie Bailey, one of the founders of Courage Ride.

“What we really are is a bike ride through the countryside, starting at Big Grove as a big, loving family, and then coming back and hanging out, and all in the name of supporting sarcoma cancer research at Iowa.” said Houghton, explaining the event.

Sarcoma cancer is a cancer that occurs mainly in bones and soft tissue. While it makes up less than 1% of cancer cases, there are over 150 types of sarcoma cancer, according to the University of Iowa. Dr. Ben Miller, an orthopedic surgeon and professor in the Department of Orthopedics and Rehabilitation at the University of Iowa, has been involved with Courage Ride for around 13 years. He’s on the board of Courage Ride as the Holden Comprehensive Cancer Center Medical Advisor. Dr. Miller explained that sarcoma cancer affects all ages, from younger children, teens, adults and older individuals, and forms in many different places in the body.

A lot of my patients, when they come in with a sarcoma, it’s the first time they’ve ever heard of it, they didn’t know a sarcoma even existed because they’re so rare,

— Dr. Ben Miller

“The difference between sarcoma and most other cancers is the type of tissue that it affects. It kind of affects the fillers of the body, the substances we’re made up of. So it affects the bones and the muscles and the tendons and the adipose tissue, [which is] the fat that we have in all of us.” said Dr. Miller.

As someone working with sarcoma cancer, Dr. Miller believes that Courage Ride does two essential things for the field: spread awareness and raise funds.

“A lot of my patients, when they come in with a sarcoma, it’s the first time they’ve ever heard of it, they didn’t know a sarcoma even existed because they’re so rare,” said Dr. Miller. It’s crucial for those with sarcoma cancer to get to a hospital as soon as possible, and increasing awareness of this cancer allows people to identify a severe issue sooner and seek treatment faster.

The second thing Courage Ride brings to sarcoma cancer research is funding. The ride has raised over $790,000 for research over its close to 20 years of existence, outside funding that is key to research.

“The funding for sarcoma is really low. So [as] it’s 1% of all cancer, it gets less than 1% of all funding. So it’s really hard to get the support that we need to really make advancements in sarcoma.” said Dr. Miller.

Dr. Miller explained that Courage Ride is an event that assists research at the University of Iowa, and funds from it spread between researchers with project ideas. Cancer research can be costly, and while funding from Courage Ride and other fundraising sources isn’t enough to develop a new drug on its own, it can fund smaller studies to gather initial data. From there, researchers can use this data to apply for a larger grant to receive more funding and develop further advances in sarcoma cancer research.

After he passed away, we wanted to do something so that other people wouldn’t have to go through what we went through, and we knew that there was very little research done in sarcoma cancer.

— Jackie Bailey

The event honors the life of Seth Bailey, who was diagnosed with soft-tissue synovial sarcoma cancer and passed away in 2003. His parents, Tom and Jackie Bailey, founded Courage Ride.

“After he passed away, we wanted to do something so that other people wouldn’t have to go through what we went through, and we knew that there was very little research done in sarcoma cancer.” said Jackie Bailey on the event’s founding.

Initially, there were plans to hold an event in Colorado Springs, where Seth Bailey had interned with the Olympic Committee. However, this idea seemed unsustainable.

“After a while, who’s gonna remember who Seth was? The Olympic Committee? So then we decided, ‘Let’s do something right here close to home.’ At first, we thought about a run or a walk. We said, ‘Everybody does that. Let’s try to draw a group of people that aren’t always asked to run and walk and donate money.’ And as a family, we loved riding bikes.’ said Bailey.

Thus, Courage Ride was born, and it has taken root in the community and grown to become a place where participants make special memories. For Bailey, one of her memories includes a red-tailed hawk, an important animal to her family.

“When my children were growing up, when we’d see red-tail hawks, we would always say, ‘Things are going to be okay when you see a red-tail hawk.'” said Bailey. This belief continued further in her life.

“As Seth lie dying that morning, I whispered in his ear, ‘I’ll know you’re okay whenever I see a red-tail hawk.’ You would not believe the incidences we have had with red-tail hawks.” said Bailey.

One of the years when Courage Ride was just beginning, Bailey stood with a group of medical students close to a stage on a truck where loud music was playing. She noticed that the med students kept looking up and followed suit. There, she saw a red-tailed hawk. The hawk said there for a few minutes before flying off to trees further away and sitting. Bailey pointed out that red-tailed hawks wouldn’t normally come near where there were people and music playing.

“And I said, ‘That’s Seth, watching us.'”

Each year, Courage Ride honors a different sarcoma cancer survivor, and they share their story at the event. This year’s honoree is Easton Koelker, a high schooler diagnosed with synovial sarcoma cancer. You can read his story and the other honorees’ stories here. One such honoree and a college engineering student are part of an important memory of Houghton’s.

The boy’s name is Devin Martz, and he was the honoree for the 2017 Courage Ride. After being diagnosed with osteosarcoma cancer, Martz received a left leg rotationplasty. This surgery involved removing part of his leg and rotating the bottom portion 180 degrees. The procedure allowed for his foot to function as a knee joint. However, his leg was now facing a way that did not work with traditional bikes, an area where the college student came in.

“[The student] created a bike riding leg for that boy and he rode a bike for the first time at the ride.” said Houghton.

One rest stop on the ride, the Courage Stop, is prominent in Dr. Miller’s memories. This stop goes by where Seth Bailey, whom the ride honors, used to live. It’s in the cemetery where Seth was laid to rest, and decorations surround his grave during the ride. This stop is important in Dr. Miller’s memories of the ride.

“For me, my favorite memories are always just taking a moment just to say hi to Seth and say, you know, say thanks for the contribution that he made and thanks for his parents putting this ride on, just a minute to reflect about why we’re all out there and why we do what we do.” said Dr. Miller.

I would encourage people to come because that atmosphere is just alive with [care], and love and fun

— Leora Houghton

This year’s Courage Ride will take place on Aug. 12 at Big Grove Brewery & Taproom in Iowa City. The event runs from 6 a.m. – 5 p.m. with a packed schedule including breakfast, lunch, a silent auction and live music by Karla Miller, Chameleon Society and Old Man Band; all local artists and bands. Plus, after your ride, enjoy a delicious Kalona Bar, a cold ice cream treat that’s well worth the wait. Route lengths range from 18.6 miles to 100.3 miles and feature rest and water stops where you can take a break, chat with other riders and hear more local musical talent.


Fees for adults are $75 with early bird registration, $15 for youth and children 12 and under ride free. These registration fees include meals, snacks, entertainment and SAG, or support and gear. Non-riders are welcome, and meal tickets are available for purchase. Additionally, if you cannot participate in person, Courage Ride has a virtual ride option available. You can ride inside or outside on your own time and still participate in fundraising. The fee for the virtual ride is $25 for anyone over the age of 12, and Courage Ride GPS Route Maps are available to send to your device. You can sign up here.

If you want to help, Courage Ride is an all-volunteer organization, and you can sign up to volunteer here. Additionally, you can sign up for Courage Ride mailings, encourage others to ride and participate yourself. Courage Ride’s virtual ride is an option for those who wish to contribute but cannot participate in person.

“I would encourage people to come because that atmosphere is just alive with [care], and love and fun,” said Houghton.