After losing family members and a mentor to cancer, 19-year-old Geena May joined the Texas 4000 cycling team because of its strong emphasis on philanthropy. This summer, she’ll embark on 70-day bike ride to raise awareness for cancer.
By Danielle Ransom, Photos courtesy of Texas 4000
June 4, a team of 67 riders will set out a 70-day journey to cover 4,500 miles from Austin to Anchorage, Alaska, in the quest to raise awareness for cancer. Who’s the youngest female rider to toe the line? Well, that would be a 19-year-old by the name of Geena May.
“It’s really insane,” May says, reflecting on her journey from Vienna, Va., to Austin and how she first became involved with the Texas 4000 team.
Her desire to study mechanical engineering was the biggest reason May made the decision to attend the University of Texas. Throughout high school, she had been at a loss as to what she wanted to study in college, but she knew she eventually wanted to go to medical school. The inspiration to pursue that field was planted during her freshman year of high school, when May joined the robotics club. During her sophomore year, she decided to get more involved and hands-on, and by her senior year, May was named president of the club and got to work on prestigious projects with her professor, mentor and motivator, Toss Cline.
“He was just an amazing human being,” May says.
It was because of her time spent with the robotics club and Cline that May decided to pursue mechanical engineering as an undergrad. Thinking back, she’s able to pinpoint the one project that solidified her passion for that field.
“My partner and I wanted to make a 3-D snowman machine, but we were stumped because bending acrylic into a perfect circle would prove to be very difficult and turn out very uneven,” May says.
Cline didn’t want the duo to give up, so he bought three different sizes of acrylic tubes so May and her partner could build their snowman.
“He didn’t have to order 18 feet of acrylic for our snowman gumball machine, but he did it anyway because he wanted us to succeed,” she says. “If you had an idea, he made it possible.”
During her junior year in high school, May learned Cline had been diagnosed with colon cancer. He missed a lot of activities for the robotics club, key among them the club’s competition at FIRST Robotics, where May and her team won the regional competition.
Cline didn’t let his diagnosis hold him back and continued to support the team, watching a live stream of the club as they won that competition, and sharing in their elation from afar.
“He was such an inspiring teacher. He was the reason why I did engineering,” May says. “I had no intention of doing engineering going into high school, but solely because of him, I found a passion for it.”
Cline passed away during the spring of May’s senior semester.
May first learned about the Texas 4000 during her freshman year at UT. She was on her way to class when she passed a table in West Campus. Curiosity piqued, May stopped by the table to learn more about getting involved.
“[Texas 4000] really stuck out to me when I realized it was for the fight against cancer. I have a strong connection to cancer and I love adventure,” she says.
There was just one little hurdle May had to face: the application to try out for the team was due that night.
“I stayed up until 4 a.m. writing,” she says, laughing at the memory.
It was a fairly long application with a lot of components, but the short deadline didn’t deter her. May turned it in early that next morning.
“If I didn’t come to UT, then I wouldn’t be in Texas 4000,” May says, “and Texas 4000 is such a big part of my college career.”
This year, the nonprofit organization is in its 13th year and has raised more than $7 million in grant funding, money that will be awarded to other likeminded nonprofit entities fighting to end cancer. May has raised more than $11,464 in donations through her volunteer efforts.
This Saturday, May and her team will set out to ride the Sierra Route, which will take them through the Southwest to California, then north along the West Coast and into Canada.
Throughout the years, May has personally been affected by the loss of family members due to cancer. When she was 2 years old, her maternal grandmother passed away from ovarian cancer. In 2012, she lost her cousin to lung cancer. This March, her paternal grandmother passed away after a long battle against breast cancer.
“It’s hard to find someone who has never been affected by cancer in some way or another,” May says. “I ride for everyone who has ever been affected by cancer, whether firsthand or not, in hopes that someday, no one will have to experience the impact that cancer has had on so many lives around the world.”