Livestrong CEO Doug Ulman announced last month that he is leaving the Texas-based cancer charity and heading to Columbus, Ohio, to join Pelotonia, a successful young cancer fundraising organization. The grassroots non-profit sponsors an annual bike ride and has, in six years, pulled in more than $61 million with the single goal “to end cancer.”
Ulman said he wasn't actively seeking a new role when a group of leaders from Pelotonia and The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center—James Cancer Hospital and Solove Research Institute approached him to join their team earlier this year.
“I'd known many of them on and off over the years through various partnerships,” said Ulman, who attended Pelotonia's first fundraising bicycle ride in 2009 as a spectator. “I had admired Pelotonia and [founder] Dr. Michael Caligiuri from afar and what great success they'd had over such a short time. The job piqued my interest and as I've learned more, I think they have unlimited potential.”
Ulman said he plans to begin visiting the organization's Ohio headquarters in November, and he and his wife Amy Grace and their three-year-old daughter and one-year-old son will move the family to the area in 2015.
14 Years at Livestrong
During Ulman's 14-year tenure at Livestrong, the CEO helped build an internationally recognized organization and brand that raised half a billion dollars. He also saw the nonprofit organization through the difficult months following founder Lance Armstrong's 2013 confession that he used banned performance-enhancing drugs during his cycling career, including seven Tour de France victories.
As Ulman looks forward to his new job, so do his future colleagues.
When they were seeking a new CEO, Michael Caligiuri, MD, Director of The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center, Chief Executive Officer of Ohio State's James Cancer Hospital (OSUCCC) and Solove Research Institute, and the founder of Pelotonia, said, “Choices number one, number two, and number three [for the Pelotonia CEO position] Doug.
“I have known Doug Ulman for over 10 years and have followed his trajectory as an amazing leader and advocate throughout that time,” said Caligiuri, a member of OT's Editorial Board. “He is internationally networked throughout the medical, government, advocacy, and business communities, and he is one of the nicest people I know.”
How Pelotonia Started
Caligiuri said the idea to launch a grassroots fundraising bike event first came to him in 2008 when he became the CEO of “The James.” With NIH and NCI funding drying up, he began brainstorming ways to create alternate streams of revenue to fuel cancer research there.
He wanted to come up with “a different kind of fundraiser, a grassroots fundraiser” that would inspire the Columbus community to become more aware of the problem of cancer and the need for research. He said Cindy Hilsheimer, President of The James Foundation Board, and Dan Rosenthal, now chairman of the Pelotonia board of directors, helped transform his idea into a reality.
“The model we developed called for $2.5 million a year to underwrite the event in its entirety so that every dollar raised by the riders would go toward cancer research at The OSUCCC,” Caligiuri explained.
They established a 501c3 and named the event “Pelotonia,” a made-up word derived from the French word “peloton” meaning a group of bike riders.
The first ride took place in 2009, included 2,250 cyclers, and raised $4.5 million. By 2012, the fourth year, Pelotonia was the number one bike fundraising event in America, by riders, according to Caligiuri. By the fifth year, he said Pelotonia raised more than $61 million and was rated as the fasted-growing fundraiser in America.
A total of 7,270 riders participated in this year's July 2014 ride, and Caligiuri said they expect the tally to hit more than $20 million (race donations don't close until the end of October).
Childhood cancer survivor Christy Patton, 31, has participated in the Pelotonia rides every year from the start—the first year as a volunteer and the last four as a rider. The Ohio State graduate, now Manager of Clinical Transformation at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, said riders can pedal as far as 180 miles (over two days) or as few as 25 miles. The longer the ride, the more money you raise.
Some companies match their employees' fundraising dollars, too. People who are not physically able to participate or who prefer not to, can “virtually” ride. This year, 3,687 virtual riders raised funds.
The main event is a weekend affair held every summer that boasts gourmet food, rock bands, rest stops with bike mechanics, and free overnight accommodations at Kenyon College in Gambier, Ohio, for the 180 milers.
Patton logged 155 miles on her longest ride. “When I'm training, if I think I can't dedicate the time or I'm getting tired, all those doubts disappear when the event starts. You know you're part of something bigger. I know what it's like to go through cancer treatment, and as hard as the rides might be, it's nothing compared to that. I can give back to others,” she said.
Riders can create a profile online at pelotonia.org either individually or as a group, or “peloton,” to keep track of donations. Patton and four other riders formed a team a few years ago that has tallied close to $50,000 in donations to date.
100% of Profits Go to Cancer Research at The James
Caligiuri said one hundred percent of the profits go directly to cancer research at The James, including:
- recruitment of “the best and brightest” scientists and physicians;
- scholarships for undergraduate, graduate, and postdoctoral fellows;
- idea grants that fund early research; and
- state-of-the-art equipment that enables scientists to remain on the cutting-edge in their fields.
The first clinical work with ibrutinib in chronic lymphocytic leukemia was “fueled” with Pelotonia dollars, said Caligiuri. It's now an FDA-approved drug for both chronic lymphocytic leukemia and mantle cell lymphoma. Pelotonia has also funded the $3 million Ohio Colon Cancer Project Initiative (OCCPI).
Ulman's Initial Goals
What will Ulman's initial goals be when he steps into his new role? They will involve building and extending the Pelotonia and the cancer center's brands, he said. “I think both Pelotonia and The James, both brands, have an opportunity to grow in unison. The James is one of the best cancer centers in the world, and yet I'm not sure the brand is well known.”
He said the eight-man Pelotonia team he's joining is a passionate group. “There's a very engaged board that has shown tremendous leadership from the standpoint of supporting the team and the hospital and driving the community to get behind us. It's a dynamic I haven't seen very often, where everyone—academic, business, philanthropic, and the community—works together.”
The Chairman of the Pelotonia Board of Directors, Daniel Rosenthal, said that under Doug's leadership they hope to create an international brand and movement that will chase down cancer and defeat it.
“It's one of the largest walk-ride fundraisers, and we want to leverage that weekend into a successful year-round brand that generates more money for cancer research. We wanted a global leader in cancer fundraising and advocacy and you can't find a better leader in those twin goals than Doug Ulman,” Rosenthal said.
Ulman, who was diagnosed with a rare chondrosarcoma in 1996, and had two episodes of melanoma in 1997, said, “I feel so fortunate to be able to work in this field. I often have friends say, ‘You're such a workaholic,’ but it's not work. It doesn't feel like work because I love what I'm doing.”
Cyclist Patton said it's exciting for Pelotonia to have someone come from a big-name cancer charity with international recognition, and she hopes it helps lure more well-known sponsors, riders, and donors.
But for her, she said, the best part of the event in the years to come will always be the spectators: “You're riding along and there are people standing on the side of the road who are getting treatment now and they're cheering and thanking you. There's a man who stood on the course the last couple of years and he holds a sign that says, ‘Thank you for saving my wife.’”