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Riding for life, from Maine to Florida

By MARY ANN KOSLASKY

© St. Petersburg Times, published February 4, 2001


Cheryl Charles of Inverness is a true Citrus County hero. She was a participant in the Five Points of Life Ride 2000, which featured 10 individuals who were selected to make a 7-week bicycle journey from Bar Harbor, Maine, to Key West.

The ride, which began Aug. 27, promoted awareness of the "five points of life" which are the need for donations of whole blood, apheresis (platelets), marrow and blood stem cells, umbilical cord blood, and organs and tissues. Cheryl is an emergency medical technician and former blood bank technician.

"I've been a blood donor since 1992 when donations were critically needed after Hurricane Andrew," said Charles, 36. "By donating, we all can help save lives." She also is listed as a bone-marrow donor and has explained to her family that she wishes to donate her organs.

Charles trained long and hard for the ride beginning in April. By the time the ride rolled around, she had put in at least 2,500 training miles. And just as she would do on the road from Maine to Florida, she rode in all kinds of weather.

Of the 10 people chosen from all over country, one was a kidney recipient and another had received a heart. One man had been in an accident when he was a child and had bone replaced and is now a bone-marrow donor. Others had connections through family members who had benefited from one or more of the five points.

Charles explained that the group met for the first time in Maine, where they would start their ride, which averaged 75 miles per day.

"It was as if this group was meant to be," said Charles. "We came together and bonded real fast. We became like a second family, and we still keep in touch with each other."

In fact, they are planning a reunion in the near future.

"This has really changed my life," explained Charles. "It is the most important thing I've done. It was incredible, very emotional. We met a lot of people along the way who were connected to the five points in one way or another."

One of her most memorable moments during the trip came when the group visited the Philadelphia Childrens' Hospital and met a lot of kids who were on waiting lists for donations.

One of her biggest supporters was her husband, who even painted their garage door with information about ride participants and the progress of the riders.

She also singled out Joe Foster and Seven Rivers Community Hospital for their support. Each rider had to provide some financial support from the community and Foster was instrumental in helping her. "He was one of my biggest supporters, besides my husband."

This bike ride is the signature event for the Five Points of Life, a program of LifeSouth Community Blood Centers. Each cyclist has a personal connection to one or more of the five points. Along the way the group stops to kick-off local donor days, hold news conferences, meet with community leaders and more. Local riders are invited to join the ride as it enters their communities. When the group arrived in Inverness, her husband, Chuck, joined her.

Charles was the guest of honor at a recent meeting of the Florida Public Relations Association Nature Coast Chapter at Southern Woods Golf and Country Club in Homosassa, where she was honored for her efforts to raise awareness of the Five Points of Life.

Would she want to do the grueling ride again?

"I would jump at it," said Charles. "You bet!"

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