THE JACKSON County Brevet returns for its fifth and, very possibly, final year.
Event founder Robert Wilhite established the 100-mile bicycle ride in 2010 to generate funding for aplastic anemia, a rare disease from which his wife, Kelly, suffers. But her declining health is such that Wilhite cannot continue to plan the event, which he says takes eight months to organize.
“It will be the last year for me organizing and managing the event,” said Wilhite, a cycling coach who has biked over 150,000 miles. “The health of my bride has just been in a continual downward spiral, and I’ve got to take extra time to take care of my bride. That’s the no. 1 priority for me.”
This year’s Brevet is set for June 14 at 7:30 a.m. and begins at Northeast Church in Braselton.
Wilhite called the decision to step away a very emotional one, given the support system the bike ride has generated for those with aplastic anemia, which occurs when the bone marrow stops making enough blood-forming stem cells. Wilhite said that many who suffer from it (including his wife) had never met anyone else battling the disease until this event started. Then, two years ago, a quarterly aplastic anemia support group began meeting.
“Just knowing how it’s been affecting patients with AA (aplastic anemia), that was the hardest part in deciding to have to step away,” Wilhite said.
The charity ride (not a race) — which starts in Braselton and winds through- out the county — has proven very successful under Wilhite’s watch, raising nearly $250,000 to fund research for aplastic anemia. In 2013, the Brevet established the Kelly Wilhite Aplastic Anemia Research Fund at Emory University, which Wilhite called “a dream come true.” Ninety cents out of every dollar contributed to that fund is applied directly to clinical research.
“In the fundraising world, that’s unprecedented,” Wilhite said.
Furthermore, participation in the Brevet swelled to over 1,000 cyclists a couple of years ago. The scope of the Brevet is something Wilhite couldn’t have envisioned back in 2010.
“If you would have told me that we would have become one of the largest and fastest-growing century rides in metro Atlanta in three short years, I would have driven you to the mental hospital myself,” said Wilhite, who credited the event’s volunteers and sponsors for its success.
But the Brevet’s days aren’t necessarily over.
The charity ride could continue if another person or group assumes organizational responsibilities. Wilhite is open to handing the event over, but the Brevet must remain as a benefit event for the aplastic anemia fund at Emory University for Wilhite to do so. He said he’s already been contacted by several organizations and individuals interested in continuing the event and plans on meeting with them at the conclusion of this year’s Brevet.
“If this truly is the last year, I don’t know,” Wilhite said. “But I am definitely looking forward to having some conversations with some folks.”
This year’s Brevet is projected to be smaller than in years’ past with 200 riders expected next Saturday. The head count is down because the event lost 60 percent of its parking. Due to the lower numbers, there’s now a minimum fundraising requirement for all bike riders in addition to the flat registration fee in order to help the overall fundraising effort.
This Brevet will feature a very notable guest — George Hincapie, a retired cyclist who remains one of the most recognized figures in the sport. Hincapie was a member of all seven of Lance Armstrong’s Tour de France-winning teams. Hincapie also started in a record 17 Tour de France races.
“This is big time,” Wilhite said. “This is kind of like having a basketball event and having Michael Jordan show up. That’s about the equivalent of it.”
Wilhite’s wife, Kelly, also plans to attend the event, though that will be determined the day of the ride.
“Because of the decline in her health, we won’t know that until that morning,” he said.
If this is the final event, Wilhite — who expressed his gratitude for county and municipal governments and law enforcement helping coordinate the event for five years — hopes it runs smoothly.
He also hopes the final ride, as always, helps elevate awareness around aplastic anemia and connects those with the disease to others who are suffering with it.
“Because, obviously, that’s the reason for the whole event,” Wilhite said.
Wilhite added that the Brevet has created some incredible memories in five years.
“I’ve got visions in my head of riding with over 1,000 riders directly behind me for a few years,” Wihite said. “I’ll tell you, that’s something that is just burned into my memory that’s hard for words to describe — when you see just incredible support all the way around.”
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