Pelotonia bike ride a passion for former Wittenberg coach

Group has raised more than $20,000 for cancer research in four years

The Pelotonia bike ride continued this year with a new look because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Craig Penney, a former Wittenberg track and cross country coach who retired earlier this year, wouldn’t have missed it. He participated for the fourth straight year with Ryan Roll and Larry Wiech. The group raised close to $4,000 this year and has contributed more than $20,000 to cancer research since they started riding in 2017. The event as a whole has raised more than $211 million since 2008.

“I hope to do it as long as I can continue to ride,” said Penney, 67. “It’s important. It’s a passion.”

Penney, a former track and field and cross country coach at Wittenberg, said he got involved when the father of one of his former Wittenberg athletes, high jumper Angela Roll, was battling cancer. Mark Roll, 58, died in 2018 after a 6½-year battle. His son Ryan rides with the group each year.

The families of other athletes Penney has coached have also been affected, and his college roommate died of cancer.

“It has affected me — not directly in my family but more indirectly,” Penney said. “It leaves an impression when you’re dealing with young kids and you’re helping them navigate through life-changing challenges.”

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In normal years, the Pelotonia starts in downtown Columbus. Riders choose different lengths of rides. Some ride 180 miles over two days to Gambier.

This year, the Pelotonia redefined the experience, asking riders to choose their own fundraising goals. Participants could ride, run, walk or choose another activity. Penney’s group rode 58 miles along the bike path from London to Miamisburg.

“The path we chose was very hot and very humid,” Penney said. “I struggled at about 50 miles. I was just dead. The hill in Miamisburg was a killer. We ended up walking, all three of us. Overall, it was really really fun. I was tired. I was spent. I had nothing left in the tank, but I got up the next day and felt good, which at my age is pretty good.”

Penney was happy to contribute to the cause even if he didn’t get the normal experience. Thousands of riders participate together in normal years, and spectators cheer the riders throughout the event from the sides of the roads.

“You go through Granville, and the whole city’s out,” Penney said, “and they’re all cheering. The emotional part for me (in past years) was when I got done. As I went along, I had the names of people I was riding for on my phone. When I started struggling, I said these people have had more of a challenge than me riding this bike, and that motivates you. It’s emotional.”

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