Justin Crew, Keagan Finley and Zach Major, of Cannonballs Across America, pose for a photo on Wednesday, June 19, 2019, in Bowling Green, Ky. Submitted photo
Photo: Staff Writer
Photo: Staff Writer

Shawnee grads helping raise money for cancer research with bike ride

Kendra and Justin Crew part of Cannonballs Across America team

On Thursday, Crew had a moment to take a phone call and talk about the trip, which had reached Nashville, Tenn., because rain had stopped the cyclists for the moment.

“We’re trying to let it pass,” Crew said. “I think it’s going to be a little bit unavoidable.”

Crew runs the support van for the Cannonballs Across America riders, cooking meals, arranging stops at various campgrounds and posting updates to social media. The group of cyclists includes her brother Justin Crew, a 2015 Shawnee grad.

The Crews earned headlines throughout their high school years for their swimming success and competed at the college level. Kendra was a NCAA qualifier as a junior and senior in the breaststroke at the University of Kentucky in 2016 and 2017, and Justin swam at the University of Cincinnati before graduating this year.

The Crews got involved with Cannonballs for Kayne, which raises money for DIPG (Diffuse Intrinsic Pontine Glioma) and pediatric brain cancer research, because Kendra is engaged to Keagan Finley, whose brother Kayne Finley died on Nov. 24, 2017, at 18 one year after being diagnosed with DIPG.

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Kayne was a high school swimmer. Keagan swam at Kentucky — that’s where he met Kendra — before transferring to Florida State and now swims for LSU. During Kayne’s treatment, swimmers across the country started doing cannonballs in pools in his honor, recording the splashes and tagging him on social media.

“It kind of went viral,” Kendra said.

Kayne started the foundation, and his family has continued it since his death. The bike ride came about because Keagan and his friend Zach Major had always wanted to ride across the country. They decided to do it as a fund-raising effort for the foundation. The trip began May 17, which is DIPG Awareness Day, at Stanford University in Palo Alto, Calif.

The riders take turns completing the miles, averaging about 100 miles per day. Justin joined the group Wednesday.

Kenda Crew, Robby Larson, Zach Major, Jack Laughlin and Keagan Finley, of Cannonballs Across America, pose for a photo with Zoe Jane Strong, who suffers from DIPG, on May 27, 2019, in Salt Lake City, Utah. Submitted photo
Photo: Staff Writer
Keagan Finley, Zach Major and Kendra Crew, oof Cannonballs Across America, pose for a photo with Daisy Walsh, who is battling brain cancer, in Arvada, Colo., on June 1. Submitted photo
Photo: Staff Writer
Keagan Finley, Teagan Schaefer, Zach Major and Kendra Crew pose for a photo with Tate Schaefer, who suffers from DIPG, at the University of Iowa’s Stead Family Children’s Hospital on June 10, 2019. Finley, Major and Crew are riding bikes across the country to raise money for DIPG research. Teagan is Tate’s sister. Submitted photo
Photo: Staff Writer

After leaving Tennessee, the 11th state on the trip, they biked to Tupelo, Miss. They will head toward Louisiana with a stop in Baton Rouge, where Kayne achieved his dream of attending classes and becoming the LSU swim team manager for several months in 2017, before heading east to Florida.

The ride will finish July 3 in Daytona Beach, Fla, not far from Kayne’s hometown of Ormond Beach. While the cycling is fun, the goal is raising money and awareness for DIPG, a devastating brain tumor that affects mostly children. Anyone can contribute at CannonballsAcrossAmerica.org.

“There’s basically a 0 percent survival rate,” Kendra said. “The treatment hasn’t changed in 50 years.”

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Crew and the riders have stopped at several hospitals along the way and toured two research labs, talking to prominent doctors about DIPG research. They also met with several kids suffering from the disease in Salt Lake City, Denver and Iowa City.

A stop at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital on Monday produced a $15,000 donation to the foundation from the hospital and another $5,000 from Furniture Fair. The ride has raised $30,000.

“What pushes you through is when you think about what you’re doing it for,” Justin said, “and the fight Kayne put up. Just continuing his legacy, that gives you a special kick. It doesn’t matter what the elevation is when you start to think of Kayne and all those who are fighting this battle. It really pushes you through. It’s definitely awesome to be a part of this ride.”

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