Brad Cusenbary, left, and Dirk Vanatta talk about what to pack while organizing aid station materials for Saturday’s Tour de Steamboat ride. Cusenbary was the president of Routt County Riders and one of the city’s most avid cyclists before being diagnosed with a brain tumor. Recent good news has Cusenbary confident that he can get back on his bike before next year’s ride, but he said his whole ordeal has made the Tour, which raises money for the cancer-related Sunshine Kids Foundation, all the more meaningful.

Photo by Joel Reichenberger

Brad Cusenbary, left, and Dirk Vanatta talk about what to pack while organizing aid station materials for Saturday’s Tour de Steamboat ride. Cusenbary was the president of Routt County Riders and one of the city’s most avid cyclists before being diagnosed with a brain tumor. Recent good news has Cusenbary confident that he can get back on his bike before next year’s ride, but he said his whole ordeal has made the Tour, which raises money for the cancer-related Sunshine Kids Foundation, all the more meaningful.

Now free of cancer, Tour de Steamboat ride director set on recovery

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The supplies stack up in the Cusenbarys' Steamboat Springs garage, waiting to be distributed to aid stations for Saturday's Tour de Steamboat in Steamboat Springs. The event starts tonight with a benifit dinner and silent auction that will feature everything from a trip to Africa to a full set of Nordic ski gear and lessons.

— Brad Cusenbary said he wants the focus elsewhere next year.

“When we have this conversation then,” he said in a slow, stuttering voice that results from his cancer treatment, “it will be about the Sunshine Kids and the ride.”

“It will be a survivor’s story next year, but not about me.”

It’s hard to tell by talking to him or by watching him walk across a room, but Brad Cusenbary hasn’t been better in years. The effects of his fight with a brain tumor, first diagnosed about 18 months ago, are evident. And in his frequent smiles and constant jokes, in the warm words for his family and friends and theirs for him, so is his victory.

“He’s done an incredible service to his friends,” Katie Lindquist said. “He’s not teaching us how to live with cancer. He’s teaching us how to live, with cancer. I know that’s cliché, but he’s an inspiration, not today but every day.”

Brad won’t be able to ride in this year’s Tour de Steamboat. He and Lindquist helped start the ride, which benefits the Sunshine Kids foundation. The ride kicks off at 7 a.m. Saturday in Steamboat Springs for its sixth year.

Once one of the town’s most avid cyclists, he thought it would be possible to participate at times during his roller coaster of medical problems in the last 18 months, but a flare up in his condition, which left him with stroke-like symptoms on the right side of his body, put that plan on hold.

Preparing for the ride

On Thursday afternoon, the garage behind the Cusenbary home looked like the staging ground outside a disaster area. Laura and Brad Cusenbary, Katie Lindquist and half dozen volunteers scurried about, preparing for the largest ride in the Tour de Steamboat’s six-year history.

“This is the first year we’ve filled to our 500-rider cap,” Lindquist said.

Thursday was dedicated to preparing the aid stations that will help participants on the three separate rides. About 300 of the riders will pound out a massive loop, 110 miles over Rabbit Ears Pass, down, around and back to Steamboat on the Gore Gruel course.

The other 200 will split between a 40-mile out-and-back to Stagecoach Reservoir and a 25-mile tour of Sidney Peak Ranch.

Thursday’s volunteers packed knives and stirring spoons, gray tape and zip ties and tables and toilet paper. Barrels overflowed with watermelons and boxes of bananas and oranges. Oreos, Pringles and chocolate chip granola bars were ready to be shipped out for a mid-ride sugar boost.

The buildup comes with growth, organizers said. Cusenbary hasn’t been able to help as much as he said he’d like, but his friends are quick to credit him for the Tour’s health.

“We haven’t been turned down by hardly anyone, and it wasn’t hard to fill up with volunteers,” Lindquist said. “There are two things. One, the Sunshine Kids, with their winter and summer trips here, are more established in town. Then, Brad doesn’t open the door to people helping him much, so they’re looking for something they can do and this is the avenue they choose.”

Long process

The Sunshine Kids foundation helps send cancer-stricken children on vacations with the hope they can leave their disease behind, if just for a few days. It’s an effort that took on new meaning for Cusenbary a year ago, the first time he helped direct the event after learning he had a tumor of his own.

He didn’t ride last year, but he could walk easily and speak clearly, and aside from a closely cropped haircut, nothing seemed abnormal.

That changed for better and worse many times in the last 12 months. Small seizures would come to serve as road signs that things were about to get worse and he lost, regained and lost the use of his limbs and his ability to speak clearly.

Doctors worried the symptoms were the result of the tumor’s growth, and that he was losing functions as it delved deeper into his brain. They ordered a biopsy.

They took 14 slivers of his brain, trying to figure out all that was wrong.

When the results came in, they were evidence of all that was right.

“Three weeks ago we got the best news ever,” Cusenbary said, speaking strongly and not stumbling on a word. “The cancer is dying.”

Laura elaborated on a story she was eager to tell.

“The biggest question was ‘Is the cancer growing?’” she said. “Everything, 100 percent from those samples, showed necrotic tissue — basically dead tissue. There were no cancer cells in there.”

Building back

Cusenbary is on the path to recovery. He and Laura spent last week in California trying to find ways to speed along the return of his right side. They’re confident enough it will come that they bought a season pass for Steamboat Ski Area for next winter.

“We’re trying to get him healthy again instead of trying to kill cancer, and that’s very exciting,” Laura said.

For now, though, their focus is shared and set on Saturday’s ride.

It’s been 5 a.m. mornings and long nights preparing, and the Cusenbarys and Lindquist laugh at how long it will take them to fully recover when the event finally is finished.

Brad’s been frustrated he can’t be as useful as he has been in the past. He can’t lift and struggles even to point with his right hand. Thanks to the last 18 months, and the reprieve his most recent diagnosis provided, however, he’s not sweating anything too much.

“We’re over the moon with excitement,” he said about this year’s Tour. “Thank God for Katie and Laura and the rest of the board of directors and all the volunteers, because we can’t do this without them.

“Everyone who is involved creates the energy that creates the product that helps kids with cancer, the Sunshine Kids, and at the end of the day that makes it all worth it.”

— To reach Joel Reichenberger, call 871-4253 or e-mail jreichenberger@steamboatpilot.com

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