Organisation - April 5, 2012

Smiling all the way to the top

Wageningen University professors and PhD researchers are joining forces to raise ten thousand euros for cancer research through the Alpe d'HuZes charity cycling event. At the moment they are concentrating their efforts on fundraising. 'I didn't realize it would be quite so time-consuming. But it feels good to do it.'

The Wageningen Zodiac team entering the Alpe d'HuZes 2012
'Many participants have had brushes with cancer themselves and this is a way for them to turn it into something positive. That makes this a very special experience', says Harma Berends, PhD researcher at the Animal Nutrition chair group and the initiator behind the Wageningen Zodiac team entering Alpe d'HuZes 2012. Last year, Berends was a volunteer for the Alpe d'HuZes, supporting her boyfriend. He was cycling, alongside thousands of others, in order to raise money for the battle against cancer. The aim of the event is to climb the 1070-metre Alpe D'Huez six times. That means a total of 6500 metres of uphill cycling in one day, comparable with climbing the Eiffel Tower 20 times. But then by bike. The money raised (20 million euros in 2011) goes to the Dutch cancer research charity KWF.
Eleven towns route
Inspired by the charity sports event last year, Berends set out to get a team of colleagues together for 2012. Once she had found a few willing volunteers in her own Animal Nutrition chair group, she went knocking on doors at the Breeding and Genetics chair group too. The professor of this group, Johan van Arendonk, remembers the first time Berends spoke to him about the project. 'She radiated enthusiasm', he says. A seasoned cyclist himself, he said 'yes' straightaway and rustled up two other colleagues and fellow cyclists, Henk Bovenhuis and Piter Bijma, with whom he regularly cycles the 230 km route of the famous Dutch 'eleven towns race', a skating event.
The team is now eight strong and has signed up to 'BIG challenge', the initiative of pig farmer Herman Houweling, who died of cancer himself. (To explain the name: 'big' is Dutch for piglet.)  This year, 185 people from the livestock sector will be cycling in the Alpe d'HuZes with the aim of raising 1 million euros. The Wageningen team is contributing 40,000 euros to the total. BIG Challenge supports the teams with tips, talks and joint training.
Cool cows
The fundraising is going well, and 30,000 euros has already been raised. Between them, Wageningen UR staff, the various chair groups, the management of ASG and the executive board, have donated about 10,000 euros. 'Of course, we are representing Wageningen UR', says Van Arendonk, by way of explanation. 'People in the sector like the fact that Wageningen UR is taking part.'
Companies in the livestock sector have also come up with all sorts of creative ideas for fundraising. Their T shirts with 'pigs/ chicks/ cows are cool' printed on them are selling like hot cakes. At study association de Veetelers' recent jubilee party, snacks were sold in aid of the event and money raised through the rodeo went to it too.
Spinning marathons at the Bongerd sports centre and the Enjoy gym have raised 4000 euros. And still to come is a gastronomic extravaganza called a 'preuvenement' at Zodiac, and We Day. At this annual sports day for Wageningen UR staff, a lottery will be run together with the other Wageningen team, de Wageningse Wieltjes. (See box.)
Battle
The team members spend four to eight hours a week on fundraising activities and training. 'I didn't realize quite how time-consuming it would be. But I haven't regretted it for one second', says Van Arendonk. There are regular consultations during working hours. Van Arendonk: 'It is very good for the atmosphere. And what is more, it feels good to do this. Ten years ago I lost a brother-in-law, with whom I used to cycle, to cancer. One in three people get cancer. When it happens, you just have to hope it is diagnosed early enough.'
Now that the team has most of its fundraising activities behind it and summer is on its way, the members are going to focus more on training, for example with the 135 km Veenendaal race. 'The Alpe d'HuZes is pretty steep, the slope is 11 percent right from the start. You can't train for that constant pressure on your legs here in Holland. What you need above all is stamina. So we are going to cycle 360 kilometres around the Ijsselmeer soon', says team member and assistant professor Piter Bijma. Berends is not as hardened a cyclist as the three men from Breeding. 'I have done a few tours, but nothing as fanatical as this', she explains. She says it not certain whether all eight team members will manage six ascents of the mountain. Bijma reckons, 'It also depends on the weather conditions - it is important that it doesn't rain'. But he is confident that team captain Berends will manage it. 'If necessary, we'll push you', he assures her. Berends hopes he is right. As a volunteer last year, she already went up the mountain once. 'All along the route there are people cheering you on, so you are practically shouted up the mountain. That is great - you cycle up with a smile on your face.'
 
Another Wageningen team
The nutritionists have a team of their own too: the Wageningse wieltjes [Wageningen wheels]. They lost a colleague to cancer.

In the department of Human Nutrition, Lidwien van der Heide fell ill last year. She was diagnosed with cancer and died within six weeks. ´Lidwien worked here for a long time and was the heart and soul of the department´, says researcher Renate Winkels. She took the initiative to form a team. ´When it comes so close, you realize that a great deal of research is still needed.´
Their interest has a professional side to it too. Several research projects at the Nutrition and Cancer chair group are financed through the Alpe d´HuZes. ´That makes it nice to show that the researchers take part themselves´, thinks Winkels.
The nutrition team includes four professors: Ellen Kampman, Frans Kok, Kees de Graaf and Renger Witkamp. Another team member has just recovered from breast cancer. Most team members plan to cycle up the mountain twice. ´Most of us are not serious cyclists. To manage six times you have to be a really good cyclist.´
Well over 15,000 euros of the 20,000 euros the team is aiming at is already in the bag, thanks to the university and the food industry. Further fundraising events on the agenda are a children´s survival afternoon, a dinner at the Rijn Ijssel College, and a joint lottery together with the BIG challenge team on We Day.

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