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Cyclists finish seven-state charity ride in Mount Vernon

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Group raises thousands for rare disorder

When four cyclists finally reached the Mount Vernon riverfront in the pre-dawn darkness last Tuesday morning, they took a moment to reflect – and catch their breath.

In less than 35 hours, the group known as Team BrAvery cycled across seven states, enduring such obstacles as knee-high floodwaters and a surprisingly high number of dog chases. The four men set out on the admittedly “over the top” journey for a good cause – to raise money and awareness for a rare inherited blood disorder known as Fanconi Anemia (FA). The disorder prevents bone marrow from creating enough new blood cells to maintain normal bodily functions, and can often lead to bone marrow failure.

The capital “A” in the group’s name is a nod to founding member Orion Marx’s daughter, Avery, who was diagnosed with FA in 2010. Observing her challenges and struggles first hand made Marx want to step outside his own comfort zone and help raise money to find a cure for his daughter in the process.

Each year, Team BrAvery picks a major challenge to overcome.  They update their supporters and donors about their progress along the way through social media.

“Instead of just pledging a dollar for every mile or something like that, people get a chance to feel more invested in the cause, and helping spread awareness,” said St. Louis resident and group volunteer, Zar Toolan.

Over the last seven years, Team BrAvery has tackled such feats as canoeing from Orlando to the Everglades, and pushing a3,100-pound pickup truck 26.2 miles – the distance of a standard marathon race. 

“We figure if it’s worth doing, it’s worth over doing,” said Atlanta resident and volunteer, Curtis Shoch.

This year’s challenge – to bicycle to seven states in 24 hours – took months of preparation and planning to pull off. Yet, even then, the non-profit adventurers had a specific final destination in mind.

“Ending in Mount Vernon was always the plan,” said Avery’s grandfather, Charlie “Buzz” Scott.

The Sarasota, Florida resident maintains a blog about the towns and sights the group encounters along their journey, and assists Marx in planning the route. He said Mount Vernon’s close proximity to Illinois and interesting history made it an ideal place to end their trip.

“We changed around our starting point a little,” Scott said, “but from the beginning, the goal was to end right at the Mount Vernon riverfront.”

The four cyclists began in Tunica, Mississippi on April 30, the day before Fanconi Anemia Awareness Day. They gave supporters updates via Facebook Live and Scott’s blog as they worked their way through Arkansas, Tennessee, Missouri, Kentucky, Illinois and finally, Indiana.

Obstacles along the way ensured this experience would be the challenge they were looking for. Floodwaters in Illinois slowed their progress and altered their route four times. For over three miles, Marx, Scott, Shoch and Toolan were forced to walk through knee-high water at night with their bikes held above their heads.

They also encountered an unusual problem multiple times throughout the trip.

“I think we were chased at various times by about 180 different dogs,” Toolan said, laughing. “Apparently they wanted to join in the challenge, too.”

“There was even a three legged St. Bernard we encountered about 50 miles away from here,” Shoch added. “I really thought that dog was going to follow us all the way to Indiana.”

The members of Team BrAvery said that having the right attitude and a positive mindset is crucial to completing the annual challenges. They said encouragement from one another and supporters pushed them through the most trying moments.

“We also never forgot why we’re doing this,” Marx said. “Avery and the other children with Fanconi Anemia are always at the front of our minds.”

The men did not sleep during their 33-hour endeavor, and only came to rest when they arrived at the Four Seasons Motel in Mount Vernon around 4 a.m. on May 2. The crew was awake and ready for breakfast by 8 a.m.

“We were all just amazed by their story,” said Four Seasons Manager Rodney Cox. “They were all so kind and gracious, we wanted to help them any way we could.”

Former Posey County Sheriff Bill Cox offered to give Marx a ride to Evansville so he could rent a car for the return trip back to Mississippi. Team BrAvery had its bikes and gear loaded into the back of the minivan and was headed south by 5 p.m. that same day.

Marx, Scott, Shoch and Toolan completed their seven-state challenge just a few hours off schedule. However, their main goal – to fundraise money for the Fanconi Anemia Research Fund – was spot on. In just one week, the group raised $35,456, with more donations rolling in to help them meet their $50,000 goal.

The cyclists safely returned home after departing Mount Vernon late Tuesday afternoon. The men said they have not chosen a challenge for next year, but considering the grueling nature of their latest journey, they may want to sleep on it first.