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Livestrong Challenge riders take aim at beating cancer

Survivors and friends of cancer patients ride through the Hill Country, raise $4 million in Austin alone.

Patrick George

Carlos Garcia finished his 10-mile bike ride in Sunday's Livestrong Challenge in Dripping Springs in just 46 minutes.

Not a bad time for a guy who just started training for the ride a week ago — and who only has one leg.

Like many of the 3,800 riders and 900 volunteers at the event, Garcia is a cancer survivor. He was diagnosed with bone cancer at age 17, and a recurrence at 21 cost him his left leg.

But the 24-year-old St. Edward's University student didn't let that detail stop him from riding alongside thousands of others who sought to raise money for cancer research. Now in its 13th year, the race, organized by the Lance Armstrong Foundation, took over Dripping Springs on Sunday as riders powered through the Hill Country on 10-, 20-, 45-, 65- and 90-mile courses.

A 5K run was held Saturday. Races were also held in San Jose, Calif., Philadelphia and Seattle. All told, about $10.2 million was raised for cancer research, $4 million of which came from Austin, foundation Executive Vice President Phil Hills said.

"Austin's always our biggest one," Hills said. "It's our hometown."

Seven-time Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong, who participated in Sunday's race, established the foundation in 1997 while battling testicular cancer. The foundation aims to improve cancer prevention methods, access to screening and care, the quality of life for cancer survivors and investment in research, according to it's Web site.

Hills said that riders and volunteers came from all 50 states and from places across the globe, including Puerto Rico, the Netherlands and Canada. He said many of the participants come to the event because they have been touched by cancer, as survivors or as friends and family of those with the disease.

"This is their one way to fight back," Hills said.

Garcia, a kinesiology major, contacted Orthotic Prosthetic Technologies Inc. because of his interest in developing prosthetics. Its owner, Aaron Foreman, is an avid cyclist and said he could get Garcia a bike and a special prosthetic for riding.

"My first thought was to do the Livestrong Challenge and ride," said Garcia, a Houston native.

Foreman hooked him up with bicycle racer Greg LaKomski, who himself rides with a prosthetic leg and trained Garcia for the race. They "condensed two years of training into one week," LaKomski said, adding that Garcia is a natural athlete who was more than up for the task.

"I have never been able to ride next to someone shoulder to shoulder" until meeting Garcia, LaKomski said.

Other than one big grade he had to climb, the ride was pretty smooth, Garcia said. After everything he had been through, including years of treatments and the loss of his leg, Garcia was euphoric at the end of the line.

"I'm just stoked," he said. "Being able to get out there and ride without any limitations ... it's a hard feeling to describe."

pgeorge@statesman.com; 512-392-8750