Wednesday, Aug. 8, 2007

Friends raise money for young adults with cancer

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Courtesy of Brent Goldstein
Allan Goldberg and Brent Goldstein prepare for the 100 Mountain Bike Race, a 104-mile-long race in Leadville, Colo., to raise money for First Descents.
Two childhood friends who grew up in Rockville are about to take on one of the biggest physical challenges of their lives, all in the name of benefiting young adults with cancer.

On Saturday, Allan Goldberg, 40, now of Vail, Colo., and Brent Goldstein, 39, who still resides in Rockville, will be riding in the Leadville Trail 100 Mountain Bike Race, a 104-mile-long race over steep and rocky terrain in Leadville, Colo.

Goldberg and Goldstein, along with four other friends, including Kevin Kane, 36, of Rockville and Gary Morris, 34, of North Potomac, will tackle the race to benefit First Descents, a nonprofit organization that sends young adult cancer patients and recent cancer survivors from across the nation to Colorado to experience kayaking and other outdoor adventures.

The six friends will also be riding in honor of Goldberg, executive director of First Descents, who recently completed chemotherapy to treat a salivary gland tumor.

When diagnosed last summer, Goldberg was already a cancer survivor, having battled rhabodomyosarcoma, a cancer that attacked his muscle tissue, as a teenager.

‘‘Cancer is a part of them, but it doesn’t have to define them,” Goldberg said, referring to those who participate in First Descents.

Goldstein said he and Goldberg met as first-graders at Cold Spring Elementary in Potomac and continued their friendship through Robert Frost Middle School in Rockville. The two graduated from Thomas S. Wootton High School in 1985 and have remained close ever since.

Goldstein said Goldberg asked him to participate in the Leadville race after informing him of his diagnosis last August. He added that Goldberg, a competitive tri-athlete, had always tried to get him to participate in races, but this time, it was an invitation that he could not refuse.

Although signing up for the race is done through a lottery system, Goldstein said that after speaking with organizers and telling them Goldberg’s story, they were given spots in the race.

In March, Goldstein said, he began his fundraising efforts for the race, asking friends, family and others to contribute donations.

‘‘It costs $1,000 to fund one week in the program for a young survivor,” Goldstein writes on a Web page devoted to collecting contributions for Team First Descents.

He said his initial goal was to raise $25,000 for Team First Descents, but the group has far exceeded that goal, reaching $76,000 and change.

Goldberg said he is touched by the amount of donations.

‘‘Neither of us thought he’d raise $76,000,” he said. ‘‘That’s very heartwarming and we’ll be able to help so many young cancer patients.”

Now that they have managed to raise the money, all they need to do is complete the grueling race in 12 hours or less.

Even Goldberg, who has competed in several triathlons and marathon races, said he is feeling a little daunted as the Leadville 100 draws near.

‘‘This race, honestly, scares me more than anything else I’ve done, including the Ironman Triathlons,” he said.

‘‘I’m excited, though,” Goldberg added. ‘‘It’s gonna be a lot of pain, but it’s pain for a purpose.”

Team member Kane said he is excited about the race as well. An athlete throughout high school, he said he suffered severe pain during his senior year that abruptly ended his lacrosse season.

After visiting several doctors and enduring countless hours of physical therapy, Kane said he was diagnosed in college with rheumatoid arthritis.

‘‘I began taking medicine and my life changed,” he said. ‘‘I promised myself that I would take advantage of every day that I could walk, run, bike, etc., without pain. It’s hokey as anything you’ll ever read, but I think of the scene from ‘Forrest Gump,’ where he starts running while wearing his leg braces, they soon shatter, and simply because he can, he runs everywhere.

‘‘So, in summary, I’m riding in the Leadville 100 because I identify with Forrest Gump,” he added. ‘‘That and the fact that Brent either asked me to or dared me to, depending upon your view of things.”

All that is left now is for the team to finish the race within the 12-hour deadline.

If he makes it, Goldstein said, it would be wonderful to know that he conquered such a daunting physical challenge.

‘‘It will probably be one of the most amazing feelings of accomplishment I’ve ever had in my life — probably more than college or law school graduation or any business success I’ve had,” he said.

To Help

To donate to Team First Descents, visit www.active.com⁄donate⁄firstdescents⁄leadville100.

To learn more about First Descents, visit www.firstdescents.org.