Four years ago Kevin Clauss left Albuquerque as an accomplished prep athlete who dedicated his high school years to sports.
Today, Clauss returns as a college graduate who is dedicating his summer to the Texas 4000, a 70-day bike trek designed to raise money for the fight against cancer that begins in Texas and ends in Alaska.
“It’s the longest charity bike ride in the world,” said Clauss, who recently graduated from the University of Texas with high honors and a bachelor’s degree of science in neurobiology. ‘We go from Austin to Anchorage, which is 4,500 miles. Our mission is to share hope, knowledge and charity.
“The ‘hope’ part is we’re real involved with the cancer community, volunteering at hospitals, that sort of thing. The ‘knowledge’ is in each community we visit we do a program where we talk about cancer, talk about cancer prevention. And the ‘charity’ part of it is each of us raise at least $4,500. Numbers-wise, as a team, our current total is $538,000, and we’re projected to hit $600,000.”
Clauss, who starred in football and basketball at Albuquerque Academy, began that mission along with 77 other riders on May 30. After two days, the riders split into three groups that go their separate ways until reuniting in Canada and riding the last nine days together into Alaska.
Clauss’ route was scheduled to bring him through Lubbock, Texas, then Clovis before arriving in Albuquerque on day 7 of the ride.
“I’m really looking forward to it,” Clauss said. “I really like biking in Albuquerque, we’re going to ride on Tramway and it’s a great view of the city from up there.”
After arriving in Albuquerque Friday night, Clauss and his teammates will hold a program at his parents’ house.
“That’s more the knowledge aspect of it. We’ll share cancer-prevention techniques, talk about cancer,” Clauss said. “We’ll also talk about the fundraising aspect of it, try to see if people are interested in donating to the cause.”
And when they leave, the riders – just like they do at every stop – will gather in a circle to reflect on their shared mission to fight cancer and share ride dedications for the day, usually made in honor or in memory of a loved one.
The memory of loved ones lost to cancer is what prompted Clauss to get involved with the charity bike ride.
“I had some cancer in the family. Both my grandmother and my aunt passed from cancer,” Clauss said. “I had a real good friend my first year of college whose dad died from pancreatic cancer. So I kind of joined to combat the helpless feeling that I had. I decided I wanted to do something about it rather than be a bystander. This is my way to make a difference in the cancer fight.”
This year marks the 10th anniversary of the Texas 4000, which has raised a total of over $4.5 million to award grants to organizations with a focus on cancer research or cancer support services.
Each year, University of Texas students with a passion to fight cancer are selected to take part in the grueling ride, which is twice as long as the Tour de France.
Albuquerque Academy football coach Kevin Carroll, who coached Clauss from 2007-2010, said his former star quarterback is up for the task.
“As an athlete who played for me, he was always looking for a challenge, and this is certainly a physical challenge,” Carroll said. “It’s a heck of a challenge. I think physically, if anyone can do it, he’ll do it. If it’s just a matter of grit and endurance and intestinal fortitude, Clauss will make it.”
Before he makes it to Anchorage, and before he even took off on his initial ride from Austin to Cedar Park, Texas, Clauss went through a lengthy training program.
“You join the organization 18 months before you leave,” Clauss said. “So you get a year and a half to prep for it.”
During that 18 months Clauss not only trained on a bike; he also raised $6,375 through a letter-writing campaign and volunteered for more than 50 hours in the community.
And despite his athletic prowess, Clauss didn’t have much experience in long-distance cycling before signing up with Texas 4000. But he was still better off than some of his teammates.
“This is a new experience for me,” Clauss said. “There’s people on my team who actually never have rode a bike before this.”
After leaving Albuquerque, the team will ride through Arizona, Utah, Nevada, California, Oregon, Washington, British Columbia and Yukon before arriving in Alaska on Aug. 3 and finishing the ride in Anchorage Aug. 8.
“I think it’s going to be pretty rough,” Clauss said. “It will definitely be a big challenge. It’s almost as much mental as it is physical.”