STEVE LEWIS/Durango Herald
Len Forkas pedals for a purpose.
Forkas is riding in this year’s Race Across America to raise money for Hopecam, his project that keeps children homebound with cancer or other diseases in contact with schoolmates, teachers and friends with a webcam.
“It helps children escape their illness,” Forkas said during a 10-minute stop June 16 in Durango. “We’ve helped 250 children in 47 school districts in 19 states.”
On the 3,000-mile Race Across America, or RAAM, the 52-year-old Forkas was scheduled to ride through 12 states and finish Sunday afternoon.
His campaign slogan is “Connecting Homebound Children to Life.” His goal was to raise $150,000 for Hopecam through his participation in RAAM.
A Hopecam website says the Forkas project, which operates through a webcam and Skype, is primarily a social tool. The secondary purpose is educational.
Forkas got the idea for Hopecam after his 9-year-old son dealt with leukemia a decade ago.
Dr. Jesse Hutt, a pediatric oncologist in Durango, thinks Hopecam can be a confidence booster for homebound youngsters.
“It’s a great resource for kids with cancer who miss school,” Hutt said. “They often feel disconnected from their peers.”
Even if the primary purpose of Hopecam is social contact, interaction with peers and teachers can motivate youngsters to try to stay current academically, said Hutt, who has practiced in Durango for 16 years.
Hutt, who is the only pediatric oncologist in the immediate area, treats newborns to 18-year-olds. If patients need guidance through a crisis, she refers them to Doug Miller, a psychotherapist.
She said that 80 percent of pediatric cancer patients who don’t have another disorder such as diabetes or high blood pressure regain their health. Their natural resiliency helps them bounce back, she said.
As Forkas pedaled into Santa Rita Park, 858 miles from his starting point in Oceanside, Calif., his support staff, like an Indianapolis 500 pit crew, stood by. Crew chief John Moore was right behind in the follow-car.
Three vehicles are required. Ten people total – including a bicycle mechanic, a masseuse, an EMT, a paramedic and a videographer – are all volunteers.
Race Across America, west to east, started in 1982 when it was known as The Great Amerian Bike Race. It has evolved, adding categories, changing rules and attracting foreign participants.
In fact, in the men’s solo division, foreigners have won all but once since 2000. The route changes, so record time is in miles per hour, not total time.
On average, 40 percent of riders are foreign and 15 percent are women. This year, the route is from Oceanside to Annapolis, Md., which is 2,993.24 miles.
Durango was time station No. 15, a point which riders have to call to announce their arrival.
Forkas is president of Milestone Communications, a Reston, Va., company in real estate and tower infrastructure.
He founded Hopecam 10 years ago when a diagnosis of leukemia affected the ability of his son, Matt, to stay current with school and social life. Matt, now 19, is attending college.
Forkas said he gets by on four hours of sleep a night, which stands him in good stead in races. He usually is on the road from 5 a.m. to 1 a.m. the next morning.
Forkas said he organized his team early, lined up sponsors and started to train for the race in which riders confront all kinds of weather – heat, humidity, rain and Midwest lightning storms – as well as traffic on interstate highways and city streets.
“About 40 percent of solo riders don’t finish,” Forkas said. “I practiced on two-thirds of the course before the race.”
The overall goal of the race for him is to raise awareness of Hopecam and the battle against cancer, Forkas said.