Robert Hughes insists his blood is “green, definitely green.” He grew up on Spartan Avenue in East Lansing and graduated from Michigan State University.
“I’m completely obsessed with Michigan State,” he said.
So when he came up with the idea of founding an annual bike ride, his thoughts naturally turned to MSU, specifically to the College of Human Medicine.
At the time more than four years ago, Grand Fondo – Italian for big ride – events were becoming popular in Europe.
“I said, ‘We need to put on a real Gran Fondo here in West Michigan,’” recalled Hughes, an avid bicyclist and frequent racer.
The MSU Gran Fondo would not be a race, but a ride attracting a larger number of participants, each soliciting pledges, with proceeds going to the College of Human Medicine. Hughes approached former College of Human Medicine Dean Marsha Rappley, M.D., who suggested using it to raise money for the college’s skin cancer research.
In the four years since, the MSU Gran Fondo has become a signature event in West Michigan, attracting more riders each year, and it has raised nearly half a million dollars for skin cancer research, including melanoma, the deadliest form.
“Not only does it raise money,” Hughes said, “but it raises a lot of awareness” about the danger of skin cancer and how to prevent it.
This year’s ride, on June 25, had raised $144,000 by early July. With more donations coming in, Hughes predicted this year’s take will total about $150,000. As in previous years, riders could choose from 12-, 25-, 40- or 80-mile routes.
With so much of his time dedicated to organizing the MSU Gran Fondo, Hughes never had participated – until this year. He rode the 80-mile route from downtown Grand Rapids to north of Grand Haven and back.
“I was able to ride in it and experience it from the inside,” he said, adding that it gave him some ideas on how to make it even better next year. “It’s just a really neat event, and, at the end of the day, you’ve raised a lot of money for a really great cause.”
At the finish line, a young woman approached Hughes and told him she had been diagnosed with melanoma last year and had raised $1,000 for skin cancer research.
“It was quite a story,” he said. “It really hit home.”
Planning already is underway for next year’s MSU Gran Fondo.
“I think our best days are ahead,” Hughes said. “Full speed ahead.”