Padres Pedal the Cause brings funding and hope for cancer research in San Diego

Cyclist riding for Padres Pedal the Cause  just outside Petco Park.
Cyclist riding for Padres Pedal the Cause take off on the 55-mile bike ride, which started on the corner of J Street and Eighth Avenue just outside Petco Park on Saturday.
(Nelvin C. Cepeda/The San Diego Union-Tribune)

The annual fundraising event on Saturday raised more than $2.4 million for cancer research at local institutions searching for a cure


Rick Valencia and his family have been a part of Padres Pedal the Cause, which raises money for cancer research, for a long time. But this year’s fundraising event hit especially close to home. His wife, Stacey, was diagnosed with a rare form of gynecological cancer just a few months ago.

The “Race for Stace” team — organized by their 27-year-old daughter, Aubrey — had originally set a fundraising goal of $50,000. But they kept ratcheting it up and landed on a goal of $200,000. By noon Saturday, they crushed that goal and raised approximately $313,000 in Stacey’s name.

“I think it goes to show how much everyone just wants to make a change and find cures, but also how much everyone loves my mom,” said Aubrey, who, along with her teammates, was decked out in a custom shirt and the color orange, her mom’s favorite color. “Like everyone — so many people have donated in honor of her.”

Their team of 40 was among more than 2,000 participants at Padres Pedal the Cause at Petco Park on Saturday to run, walk and ride bikes for the annual fundraiser. Curebound, a local nonprofit, hosts the event to raise money for collaborative cancer research in San Diego County.

This is the first Padres Pedal the Cause that’s been held in person since the pandemic began two years ago. Last year’s event was held virtually and raised $1.5 million for cancer research.

Suhrid Bhatt, from Rancho Bernardo wrote out his father’s name, Hasit.
At the Padres Pedal the Cause, Suhrid Bhatt, from Rancho Bernardo wrote out his father’s name, Hasit. Bhatt’s father passed away of brain cancer back in 2019.
(Nelvin C. Cepeda/The San Diego Union-Tribune)

Curebound raised more than $2.4 million at this year’s event so far, but that number can continue to grow as fundraising continues for another month. To date, this event has raised more than $15 million since 2013 to fund 78 research grants targeting all types of cancer.

Anne Marbarger, chief executive officer of Curebound, said that this fundraiser is unique because the money goes to local institutions and ultimately impacts cancer research beyond San Diego.

“Our goal is to fund these earlier stage ideas, where (National Institutes of Health) isn’t going to give big funding to yet and help them get more data and advance towards clinical stages where either a biotech can gobble it up, or a new company can be spun out to get the idea to clinic,” Marbarger said.

The local institutions include the UC San Diego Moores Cancer Center, the Salk Institute, Sanford Burnham Prebys, Rady Children’s Hospital, La Jolla Institute for Immunology and Scripps Research.

Reuben Shaw, director of the Salk Institute’s cancer center, said that funding from the federal government for novel research is hard to come by, but Pedal the Cause helps tackle that challenge. He added that the way these Curebound grants are given catalyzes innovation and relies on the collaborative nature of San Diego’s life science community.

“It’s just so powerful ... to be able to both be the researcher pushing for things but then to be at the event taking part,” said Shaw, who biked in the 25-mile ride. “Riding over the Coronado Bridge on this glorious San Diego day and being part of a larger community.”

Plus, the funding that stays in San Diego allows them to hone in on specific solutions that can benefit local cancer patients like 6-year-old Savannah “Savvy” Schwartz. She was diagnosed with medulloblastoma, a type of brain cancer, at the age of 2½.

Funding from Pedal the Cause connected Savvy with precision medicine developed in part by Salk researchers.

“Without that research, without that grant (money), I’m not sure my daughter would be here today,” said her father, Jonathan Schwartz, “and I firmly believe that.”

Schwartz said Savvy is doing great — she still takes chemotherapy every morning, but nothing is slowing her down as she ran the 5K with her mom on Saturday morning.

Participants taking part in a 50-minute spin workout for Padres Pedal the Cause.
On the roof top of the Western Metal Supply Co. in left field at Petco Park, participants taking part in a 50-minute spin workout for Padres Pedal the Cause, celebrate after completing the intense workout on Saturday, April 9, 2022.
(Nelvin C. Cepeda/The San Diego Union-Tribune)

During one of the hourly spin sessions, the Race for Stace team pedaled in unison on stationary bikes to upbeat electronic dance music. While they pedaled for almost an hour with the midday sun beating on their backs, the Valencias thought of Stacey, who is recovering from surgery in the hospital.

“I can’t heal (Stacey), I can’t diagnose her, I can’t fix anything that’s wrong with her, but this is something that I feel like I can do,” Rick Valencia said. “And (fundraising is something) I can do to help other people like her and you never know, there could be something that’s miraculous that comes from this at some point that could be beneficial to her.”