El Dorado Hills, CA (Vocus) June 18, 2010
Connor Ellison is on a mission unlike anyone in history: To be the youngest cyclist to ever compete, and finish, the grueling Race Across America (RAAM), a 3,000-mile non-stop, single stage bicycle race from coast-to-coast. And he just crossed the Mississippi River, with less than 1,000 miles left to go.
Inspiration takes courage, and courage is contagious. That’s how Connor not only talked his dad, Jared, into letting him do it and racing with him, but also convinced his mom, Tiffany, (who also happens to be Mrs. California), and his surgeon, Dr. Carlos Esquivel to race with him. Dr. Esquivel is the Director of the liver transplant and intestinal program at Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital at Stanford University. If that isn’t enough, he even persuaded his 6th grade teacher, his city’s Fire Chief, a local policeman, and his personal physician to crew for him.
Connor Ellison used to be an ordinary kid. But after failing a normal blood test for a local football team and 8 months of subsequent testing, his family received the bad news: congenital hepatic fibrosis, or scarring of liver tissue that can distort blood flow through the liver.
But Connor is a fighter. Instead of worrying about his disease, he became passionate about organ donation and transplants. Knowing that he may need a liver transplant, he immediately sought out ways for his entire family to increase awareness of the national need for organ and blood donors. His mother, Tiffany, entered the Mrs. California pageant with a platform of organ donation, and she won the title. His father, Jared, joined Team Donate Life for the annual Race Across America in 2009. Following the race in 2009, Connor asked both of his parents if he could train and participate in the race himself. He also asked them if they would race with him. The family approached Team Donate Life, and they agreed that Connor would be allowed to race with Team Donate life under three conditions: 1) he would need to attend Team Donate Life's Fall training camp in Park City with Dr. Eric Heiden (former Olympic Gold Speedskater) who trains Team Donate Life cyclists to make sure he was physically able; 2) he would need special permission from the RAAM officials and organizers as the youngest person to ever participate; and 3) he would need to race under direct supervision of his physician. Connor never doubted himself for a moment.
Connor joined an 8-person relay team for Team Donate Life, a non-profit organization dedicated to promoting transplantation, and he has trained on his bike for 10 months in preparation for his race this week. During an interview on Tuesday right after crossing the Rocky Mountains in Colorado at 3:30 AM in the dead cold of the night, Connor responded, “I may have been a little crazy, because this is the hardest thing I could ever imagine. But it is also the most fun I've had in my entire life. I’m so tired and only 1,000 miles into the race. But I made a commitment. I’ve helped raise over $100,000 from people who believe in me and want to help me follow my dream to make a difference, so I can’t give up. I’m really lucky to have my mom and dad racing with me, and my crew has been so nice to me. If I cry, they all cry. So I just have to keep racing. I know I’ll be so excited to cross the finish line.”
Connor’s cycling highlight was the opportunity to meet Lance Armstrong last month during the first stage of the Amgen Tour of California. Lance heard about Connor’s mission, so he sought him out just before the race start to encourage him and sign his helmet. Connor admitted that he never expected to actually meet his lifetime hero.
Connor’s Hope is the name of his team racing for Team Donate Life this year, and Team Donate Life is creating a documentary of his journey with a video and photography team. They also have GPS Tracking and minute-by-minute blogs from team and crew members.
Supporters can track Connor along his journey and comment on his blog entries, and they can also make donations through Team Donate Life’s website.
The team is currently expected to arrive at the harbor finish line in Annapolis, Maryland, on Saturday morning between 10:00 AM – 4:00 PM.