In just over three weeks, eight local cyclists will begin a grueling 3,000-mile bike race from Oceanside to Annapolis, Md.
But the members of Team Crystel's Gift will have more than just their legs to push the pedals. They'll be propelled by the memory of a woman whose tragic death helped sustain the lives of eight others through organ donation.
"We'll be tired, grumpy and miserable, but the goal surpasses all of that," team member Melanie Spigelmyre of Fresno said. "That's what will keep us going during those hours and days on the bike."
Arguably the world's most demanding bike race, the Race Across America attracts some of the world's fittest cyclists. No one on Team Crystel's Gift meets those standards -- in fact, most are relatively new to cycling -- but they'll surely be among the most inspired racers in the field.
Team Crystel's Gift was founded by Tom and Elisabeth Guevara, a Coarsegold couple touched by Crystel Stanford, the 29-year-old cyclist who died during last year's Eye-Q California Classic Century.
Tom Guevara raced last year's RAAM as part of an eight-person relay and Elisabeth was on the crew. Tom was so affected by Stanford's death that (after seeking permission from Stanford's parents) he rode with a picture of her on his jersey.
"We knew we wanted to do it again, and we wanted to honor Crystel by naming our team after her," Elisabeth Guevara said.
Besides the Guevaras and Spigelmyre, a former Fresno State volleyball player, the racers are Dennis Ball, Paul Moore, Mark Berry and Jonathon Torrey, all of Fresno; and Elida Gonzalez of Sanger. The crew includes Callie Stanford, Crystel's younger sister.
Starting June 16 and riding in rotating shifts, team members hope to cross the finish line in 61/2 days. That's a daily average of 461 miles.
The squad is collectively more than halfway toward its fundraising goal of $100,000, which will be donated to Team Donate Life, the national nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting organ donation and transplantation.
"There's not a day that goes by that I don't talk to somebody who hasn't been personally impacted by this," Spigelmyre said. "It's amazing."
Before last Saturday's California Classic Century, which marked the first anniversary of Stanford's death, her memory was honored during a pre-ride ceremony.
A little more than halfway through the 100-mile ride, several team members stopped at a roadside memorial outside Squaw Valley -- a chalked blue-and-yellow heart next to a cross on a downhill section of Highway 63 -- to place red-and-white bows in her memory.
"We're just ordinary people who love to cycle, and cycling for a cause is definitely awesome," Elisabeth Guevara said. "We are inspired."
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