By Mark Ambrogi
Pete Collins and his wife Sally Marchand Collins had hoped to do America’s Most Beautiful Bike Ride together on a tandem bicycle.
Pete, who was diagnosed with leukemia in February 2000, would not be able to the 100-mile Lake Tahoe ride. As his condition worsened, Sally’s father, Normand Marchand, was moved to make a promise to his son-in-law.
“I said, ‘Pete, I’ll take your place up front on the tandem,’” Marchand said.
Collins died in February 2001 at the age of 36. Four months later, Marchand, then 65, kept his promise.
Five years after that ride, Marchand completed the Lake Tahoe ride again going solo.
“I mentioned to Sally when I’m 80, come back and we’ll do the ride again,” Marchand said.
So on June 5, the Thorntown resident will again tackle the 100-mile scenic ride in Nevada to raise money for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. Marchand had been riding bicycles since he delivered newspapers as kid in Massachusetts. But he hadn’t attempted anything like this before.
“It did scare me,” Sally said of the first ride.
Sally, a Carmel resident who owns Sundance Salon Spa in Zionsville, had a challenge herself –
going for a solo race a week after her husband’s funeral.
“I didn’t know how to pump up the tires, because Pete always did that,” Sally said. “The coach came running in to help. When I got done with the 25-mile ride, I called my dad to tell him how I did. He said, ‘I just want you to know you are not riding that bike alone. We’re going to get that tandem and ride together.’ I think I cried. So we bought a tandem that fit us.”
They also bought a bicycle so Marchand could train on his own. Riding a tandem is actually more taxing, Marchand said.
“To have your dad ride a bike with you at that age being an adult woman was pretty amazing,” said Sally, who is now 48.
The mission began when Sally and her husband stopped at the LLS after his diagnosis. Pete saw photos of cyclists. When he asked what it was, the woman replied it was the 100-mile bike race and offered to give him information on leukemia and the 100-mile ride.
“She didn’t know he was just diagnosed with leukemia,” Sally said. “He got in the car and said, ‘We’re going to do this ride in June.’ That was his goal. We had never done 100 miles. The most we had done was 61. Our goal was always to reach 100. This gave us a purpose.”
The Lake Tahoe ride is part of Team in Training, which supports LLS.
There are 20 members on Team Papi, Marchand’s nickname. The goal is to raise $100,000. In 2015, Sally’s team, called Team Sally, raised $120,000 for the Lake Tahoe ride.
The experience of riding has left Marchand, who turned 80 Jan. 19, eager to keep active. At age 71, he competed in a triathlon with another daughter, Sandy.
“There’s no doubt the rides and the different things I’ve done have kept me healthy — plus being married to a nurse,” said Marchand, a Korean War veteran.
Annette, 76, rode with her husband on a tandem bicycle in one race.
Marchand competed in a Disney half-marathon (13.1 miles) in Orlando in January 2015 to earn the LLS Team In Training’s Triple Crown award for competing in a half-marathon, a triathlon and the Lake Tahoe ride.
During the 2001 Lake Tahoe ride on the tandem, Marchand was bothered by his arthritis on a chilly day.
“He had the look on his face like he wasn’t going to make it,” said Sally, who assured her father it was alright if needed to stop. “We were at mile 40 with 60 to go. He’s standing in line to go to the restroom and a little boy walks up, offering an orange from his tray. Dad takes one and says ‘thank you.’”
Marchand then learned the little boy had leukemia.
“That’s when he got back on the bike, and I thought he was a professional cyclist,” Sally said. “I called him Lance Armstrong. Nothing stopped him after that.”
Sally said they both could feel her husband’s spirit during the final climb.
Now Marchand is competing again because he loves the challenge and motivating younger riders.
Many are amazed at his stamina at his age. When they learn his age, he said people say, “‘Are you kidding me?’”
Sally earns money coaching others on mountain bikes and how to prepare to ride alone. She donates funds raised for LLS.
To donate, pages.teamintraining.org/in/ambbr16/TeamPapi.