Leukemia Patient Luigi Laraia Plans to Ride His Bike From DC to Vancouver

Diagnosed with the disease four months ago, he hopes to raise $10,000 for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society.

By: Nicholas Hunt

A lot can happen in three months. Three months ago Luigi Laraia was in a hospital bed suffering the side effects chemotherapy. In those dark days he didn’t know if he would ever be healthy again. Today he will get on his bike at the Italian Embassy hoping to ride roughly 3,500 miles to Vancouver.

The 37-year-old Laraia, an economist with the World Bank, has a lot of reasons for the ride. He wants to raise donations to fund the cancer research that helped save his life. He wants to show others in his situation they can still achieve their dreams even in desperate times. He wants to get to the other side.

“I am happy to be useful to the cause,” he says, speaking of his goal to raise $10,000 for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society.

But it is also a journey about rediscovering his body. The journey itself is medicine, he says. Where his body has let him down, his mind must make up the difference.

“It’s really about being yourself when people tell you that you may not be yourself anymore,” he says.

Laraia has always been fit. Two years ago he rode his bike from DC to the Grand Canyon, facing a headwind most of the way. But that was then.

“This will be a totally different experience, because I am a totally different person,” he explains. “[That ride] will be a source of inspiration . . . but in terms of being fit, I don’t think I can compare it.”

It took four weeks after he was hospitalized before he realized he could be healthy again. When he hatched his plan for the transcontinental crossing, he says those he shared the idea with were extremely worried.

“But once the blood tests came back okay—not good, but okay—everyone got behind me like crazy,” he says.

They will be an essential source of inspiration on his journey. He has packed light, taking only one change of clothes and a small laptop with which to update his blog. It is an individual journey, but he needs to be connected to those who love him, he says.

If all goes right—if his body and mind are up to the challenge and he can endure the distance and the heat—the trip will take 35 days, 120 miles a day. So far, in four weeks of training, the longest he has ridden is just 80 miles.

The trip will take him across 12 states, first north to Pittsburgh, then over to Chicago and through the American West.

His doctors have warned him to be vigilant and to listen to his body, and Laraia admits he may not make it.

“If I look back to three months ago, I was in a hospital bed with people working on me,” he says. “It is a tough goal. I’m just glad to get started. And the rest? Well, I’ll just see about the rest.”