HUNTERSVILLE – Maria Parker, sister of Huntersville resident Jenny Mulligan, took on one of her greatest challenges last year – a 3,000-mile bike ride across the country to fight against one of the world’s deadliest diseases – cancer.
Parker is an ultra-endurance cyclist who set a few world records.
Her sister was diagnosed with stage-four brain cancer in October 2012 after doctors discovered a tumor in her left frontal cortex. In the first six months, Jenny had radiation and chemotherapy, but continued with the chemotherapy through February of this year until she could no longer endure the treatment. She became less perky and lost her desire to socialize with others.
“I feel hopeless sometimes and terribly sad, not having your mother there for your graduation or wedding,” said Timothy Mulligan, Jenny’s son. “We see it as this is God’s plan for us and it’s outside of our control.”
She passed away June 19.
Jenny’s battle with brain cancer inspired her sister to participate in the June 2013 Race Across America, where she biked roughly 300 miles each day for a week and a half to raise awareness and money for brain cancer research. Maria’s bike ride inspired her nephew to create an hour-long documentary about the ride and his mother’s struggle.
“Maria has a personality of a fighter, she gets up and takes things on,” Timothy said. “At first she didn’t think she could do it, but a month after Jenny was diagnosed, she went for it.”
Competing in Race Across America requires getting a vehicle and special equipment to carry three bikes and clothes in a follow van. Someone drove the van and communicated with Maria as she biked.
Maria biked over California mountains, Arizona deserts, the Colorado Rocky’s and continued until she reached Annapolis, Md., at the finish.
Maria had to stay hydrated, especially biking through elevations reaching over 8,000-feet, steep climbs and sandy terrain.
During the race, another car rear-ended the follow van, leaving Maria’s son injured and three bikes completely destroyed.
“Everyone was shaken from it,” Timothy said. “We kept telling Maria not to give up.”
But Maria couldn’t find the courage to continue the race – until she spoke with Jenny over the phone.
“That was a moment for Maria to talk to Jenny and get refocused on why we she was doing the race,” Timothy said. “My mom told Maria, ‘God will protect you and give you the strength.’”
Although she was on a 24-hour delay and 300 miles behind everyone, Maria managed to pass everyone while she was in the plains.
“I don’t think she would have made it if it wasn’t for a mass of support from people here in Charlotte, her hometown and across the globe posting on Facebook,” Timothy said. “It fueled her. It became a mental decision for her to finish the race.”
Maria finished first in the women’s group with a time of 11 days, 20 hours and 54 minutes and set a world record for women in her age group (50+).
When Maria decided to complete the race, Timothy decided to film a documentary.
The Mulligan team, calling themselves 3000 Miles to a Cure, joined together July 4 to keep the momentum going. They began working on their movie, “Hope.”
With the help of writers, photographers and producers from their circle of friends and family, the team volunteered its time and money to put together a story comprised of interviews and race footage.
“I am so proud because we made something really incredible,” Timothy said. “This project came out of the heart and souls of the community and people around us. It sort of rose from ashes to an amazing film.”
The film, “Hope,” premiered May 15 at the Mint Museum in uptown Charlotte, earning $11,000 from ticket sales.
The team hopes to raise $1 million for brain cancer research. So far, the organization has raised $130,000. Donations go to ABC2, a brain cancer research organization and partner of 3000 Miles to a Cure.
“Hope” screened in Lumberton and Portland, Ore.
Timothy says his proudest moment was when his mother was able to see the movie.
“That was the moment it all came together for me,” he said. “We have her story and it’s there forever, even if the rest of the world doesn’t want to see it.”
Timothy and his team worked hard to finish the movie in one year’s time so if anyone could see it, it would be their mother.
“Hope is a gift. When you have it, you shouldn’t take it for granted,” Timothy said. “We want people to have hope about brain cancer.”