MONROEVILLE, Ala. (WALA) - Four years after a near death experience, Fred Kelley issued an unbelievable fundraising challenge that he would ride a bicycle from Monroeville to Mobile. Kelley admits he was not thinking about the distance, or the fact that he had not been on a bike in 27-years. He recently shared about beginning of the event now called "Peddlin' for a Cure". Since 2004, the ride has grown to more than 300-riders and raised nearly a $1 million.
"I speak at churches around the country now. I tell my personal testimony, and I talk to the young people about commitment. You see, I had made a commitment to the listening audience and to all those people who came here to give money that I would ride the bicycle," says Kelley.
Kelley is the driving force and founder of Peddlin' for a Cure. The annual bicycle ride has raised more than $900,000 for the American Cancer Society's Relay for Life. Kelley's commitment started nine years ago on his Monroeville live radio program, the Phil and Fred Show.
"They asked me what could I do to help them kick off the Relay for Life. This is live radio, and I had 60 seconds. I'm going to tell you the truth. I had no idea what was going to come out of my mouth. I just said, ‘I'll tell you what we're going to do. If we can raise a "$1,000 this morning, I'll ride a bicycle from right here from the Monroeville Courthouse Square to the Battleship Alabama in Mobile.' When we first put the challenge out, the phone didn't ring, so I thought well nobody, maybe they didn't hear me," thought Kelley.
So Kelley tried again, he told his listeners he would even throw in the first $100 and said he would ride to Mobile in one week to the day, the next Friday.
"What I didn't know is the single line telephone that comes into this studio was jammed with calls. And what I didn't know is people were actually driving to our location bringing cash and checks, and in 20 minutes we had $5,000 piled up on this table right here at Lee Motor Company. I had no idea this many people in our area were affected by cancer," shares Kelley.
Many of those listeners, who were contributing to his challenge, may not have known that a long bike ride from Monroeville to Mobile would not be easy for Kelley.
"I had a heart attack in March of 2000. I lost one half my heart function. I had open heart surgery, four bypasses since that time, seven stints, and a defibrillator/pacemaker. I have approximately 17 percent of my heart beating right now. It's tough, the pacemaker is only designed to keep you alive," said Kelley.
Kelley is doing his part to stay alive. Since the heart attack he's made lifestyle changes. He's eating better, walking and exercising. Kelley has lost more than 100 pounds. Despite these healthy and successful changes, his pending bike ride was anything but a simple challenge.
"Now, I didn't know when I said I would do that challenge the Battleship Alabama in Mobile was 92 miles away from Monroeville. And, the first thing I had to do was to buy a bicycle. I didn't own one nor had I ridden one in 27-years," Kelley said.
He said when the journey began, he wasn't sure he was prepared.
"I never really had ridden that bicycle I bought over about five miles before that night we left. We rode on Good Friday, and we rode all night as we left Monroeville at midnight Thursday, as the old bell clock tower chimed twelve times. Eight other people came along on that first ride, including one breast cancer survivor Peggy Lloyd who rode the entire distance," recalled Kelley.
He said the ride was tough, but he didn't give up.
"We need to encourage those who are fighting and that they can't quit. So I didn't quit. I rode the entire distance. About mid morning the next morning, Good Friday, as we rode up onto the Battleship they announced we had raised $33,000. It was because of their faith and their commitment to that ride, people were giving the whole time we were riding. I had no idea this bike ride would raise that much money. I was just putting a ‘simple challenge' out there," said Kelley.
Kelley's one time challenge, turned into an annual event. The ride became known as "Peddlin' for a Cure.''And, Kelley has made the long ride every year since 2004.
"It's been very hard, but the fact that the encouragement everyone's given us. I wouldn't have quit for anything. It's why we're pedaling the bicycles, and we're not just riding the bicycle. We're Peddlin' for a Cure. That's why we're doing this. And when you put the faces with what we're trying to do and over the years I finally got it. It really means more to you. I see people taking chemotherapy and they get tired, and I really got the meaning of fighting cancer it means more than giving money, giving support. I ride for them, and that helps me a lot when I'm tired. I've learned you can stop, just don't quit," said Kelly.
Over the many miles, hills and high wind in his face, Kelley has stopped many a time, but he's never quit, and he's training to ride again
in 2013. The tenth "Peddlin' for a Cure" event in March could push the total proceeds over $1 million raised for the American Cancer Society's Relay for Life.
"I'm just very excited as I even think about it. If we can make it over the $1 million mark, then I'm planning to retire; I'll be honest with you. I have congestive heart failure. It's harder and harder to do this. Is it possible? Can it be done? I'm just going to keep on praying it does," said Kelley.
"Peddlin for a Cure" will leave from the Monroeville Courthouse Square and ride to the Ronald McDonald House in Mobile on Good Friday, March 29, 2013. There will also be an opportunity for those of you who would like to ride, but can't ride the 90-plus miles. For his amazing efforts Fred Kelley has received a National Community Involvement Award, which was presented to him by then President George W. Bush.
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Republican state Rep. Jamie Ison of Mobile says she won't seek re-election next year. Ison said Friday she will retire at the end of her term to focus her attention on her real estate career and her volunteer work.