Little Red Riding Heroes – Women Riding for Cancer Research

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[Editor's Note: Although the Little Red ride is cancelled for 2021, The Huntsman SportsFest is happening this year on June 12. Read about how a group of riders is helping the Huntsman Cancer Foundation. This story is from 2018.]

By M. Porter Sproul — Everyone is familiar with the tale of Little Red Riding Hood. The tale of a young girl and her grandmother who are saved from a hungry wolf by a huntsman in the woods.

Little Red Riding Heroes. Photo courtesy Huntsman 140

In our story, Little Red Riding Hood is the Huntsman’s hero when she dons a jersey and joins the fight against a different kind of hungry wolf. And the woods, are northern Utah.

For the past 30 years, women have banded together in the beautiful Cache Valley to participate in Little Red Riding Hood (LRRH), a non-competitive cycling event celebrating the strength of women against the beastly disease of cancer. LRRH has become a widely loved and acclaimed event due to its celebratory atmosphere, annual themes, great food, over-the-top decorations, and commitment to supporting women through charitable giving to Huntsman Cancer Foundation (HCF).

“We get bigger and better every year,” said Curt Griffin, LRRH’s race director. “We love to party all weekend long with these amazing women, but what makes Little Red truly special are the big hearts of our participants and their commitment to helping us raise money for women’s cancer research at Huntsman.”

LRRH has valued women’s health since its beginning in 1988 and decided to team up with Huntsman Cancer Foundation (HCF) in 2001 to support breast and ovarian cancer research at Huntsman Cancer Institute (HCI). LRRH does this by donating a portion of each registration fee, hosting a silent auction at the finish line, and by giving 150 guaranteed entries to the ride to the Huntsman Heroes (HH) cycling team.

The HH cycling team is a community group of passionate cyclists and fundraisers who support cancer research while training for some of Utah’s top endurance events. The team has members of all skill levels, training for event distances from 25 miles to over 200 miles.

Jill Callahan of Jackson Hole, WY, joined the HH cycling team in 2015 for the sole purpose of skipping the race lottery and receiving a guaranteed entry to LRRH.

“Being able to support a good cause was a bonus,” Callahan said. “Now it has become much more meaningful. I have dear friends from Jackson who have received treatment at Huntsman and I know how critical it is for our entire region.”

Like Callahan, many women join LRRH because of the impact cancer has had on their lives. Sarah Thoms, a resident of Salt Lake City, UT, is a cancer survivor who will be riding LRRH for her third year as a member of the team in June.

“A small spot of basal-cells on my shoulder led to an aggressive surgery to remove a large amount of tissue from my shoulder, and lymph nodes from my neck and armpit,” said Thoms. “Everyone’s life has been affected by cancer in one way or another. It’s amazing to see so much generosity, and be able to ride with a group of other tough women.”

Reflecting on her fundraising experience, Thoms said it was easier than she had originally thought it would be.

“With an email to friends and family and a Facebook post, I had reached my goal!”

Elfi Ortenburger, originally from Bürgstadt, Germany, and now a resident of Salt Lake City, UT, has always had a strong love of charity work and helped start the Huntsman Heroes program in 2004 after moving to Salt Lake City. Ortenburger is also the captain of the Miles For Marie HH team, which was started in honor of a fellow team member who passed away from cancer.

“I love the event, and cycling in my Huntsman jersey makes me feel proud and special,” Ortenberger said. “I love the extra support we get for being on the Huntsman Team and together we raise money and make a difference in the fight against cancer. The fundraising part has not been difficult for me and so I keep coming back and hoping someday we find a cure.”

Jen Murano, director of events at HCF, provides fundraising and event support at LRRH each year.

“It has been amazing to see the event continue to grow over time,” Murano said. “Last year, our Little Red Heroes raised $111,402 which put them over the one-million dollar mark since they began supporting us. It’s been an incredible partnership that we are excited to continue for many years to come.”

To recognize years of support, HCI named its multipurpose room the Bonneville Cycling Little Red Riding Hood Multipurpose Room.

Nancy Ward, from Salt Lake City, rides each year in honor of her sister, Susan, who passed away from ovarian cancer. She and three of her family members started the HH team, Fourward, which grew to nine members last year and raised over $6,000.

“It was devastating to lose our adored sister and friend. Truly she was the glue that held our family together,” said Ward. “We admire Huntsman for its passion to find a cure for cancer. It seemed a natural and perfect opportunity for my family to join Huntsman Heroes to fundraise in memory of Susan.”

The HH team is open to anyone who wants to join and there are still guaranteed spots available for the 2018 LRRH ride. Additional information about joining the team can be found by visiting www.thehuntsman.org/littlered, emailing [email protected], or by calling HCF at (801) 584-5800.

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