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Team cycles to support funds to find NPC cure

Nicole Toczauer | Monday, March 28, 2011

The Notre Dame cycling team sped across wide, flat courses Sunday in downtown South Bend, racing against other colleges in support of the Ara Parseghian Medical Foundation in its battle against Niemann-Pick Type C disease (NPC).

The Notre Dame cycling team hosted the Midwest Collegiate Cycling Race two years ago, though this year marked the first time it was a fundraising event, sophomore cyclist and weekend coordinator Jospeh Magro said. The idea to partner with the Foundation and raise money for its research began when news of Dean Crawford’s Desert to Dome ride surfaced last summer. College of Science dean Gregory Crawford and his wife Renate rode 2,300 miles from Tucson to Notre Dame.

“After he arrived in South Bend, we met a number of times and brainstormed ways the Cycling Team could continue his fight against NPC,” Magro said.

The Foundation was established in 1994 after legendary Notre Dame football coach Ara Parseghian lost grandchildren to the disease. NPC is a genetic, neurodegenerative disorder that causes progressive deterioration of the nervous system in children, Magro said. No effective treatment for NPC has been discovered.

After deciding to tie a benefit function to the team’s home race, Magro contacted the head of the Parseghian Foundation. Through pledges made by friends, family and faculty, the athletes’ performance in the team trial and road race over the weekend raised money to fund research and develop treatments for NPC.

“We represent not only ourselves but the University and the Parseghian Foundation, so when we ask for pledges we have to be as knowledgeable as possible,” he said. “To prepare for our work with the Parseghians, all [Notre Dame] riders have spent time learning about both NPC and the Foundation.”

Magro said team members felt lucky to have been given the opportunity to apply their skills toward helping this cause.

“Like most ND students I think, giving back to the community is something that myself, and the rest of the team, value,” he said.

Magro said that on a personal level the races and their relation to research for NPC is very important to him.

“NPC has been called ‘children’s Alzheimer’s’ as it primarily affects kids,” he said. “Alzheimer’s has definitely touched my family, and any breakthrough in NPC research that could lead to a similar one for Alzheimer’s would be awesome.”

In addition to working with the Foundation, the cycling team has prepared for racing since early December. This home race, Magro said, is just one stop in the collegiate cycling calendar this year.

“We compete all across the Midwest throughout the spring with the goal of qualifying for the National Championships in early May,” he said. “Our advanced riders put in 15 hours or more a week on the bike.”

Dean Crawford opened the weekend’s three events in downtown South Bend, beginning with a team time trial. In the time trial, teams of four riders from each school covered a 10-mile course around Potato Creek State Park. Road Races dominated Saturday afternoon, ranging in length from 27 to 66 miles.

Sunday closed with the feature event, a short track race held in downtown South Bend. Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State, Purdue and Marian competed in the weekend’s events.

“The course is wide and flat as a pancake, which equals speed, so racing is exciting,” Magro said.

The most challenging part of preparing for this weekend was planning the event itself due to its complex interface of individuals working together, Magro said. Since last fall, race organizer Douglas Ansel communicated with the city of South Bend, Indiana, Notre Dame and police paramedics.

“We expected over 200 collegiate riders to compete throughout the weekend, and making sure everything ran without a hitch was no small task,” Magro said.

Though the weekend’s events have passed, anyone can continue to support the Parseghian Foundation. Magro said the online process takes only a few minutes and continues the ND cycling team’s efforts.

“Simply visit parseghian.org and click the ‘donate now’ button on the main page. It will guide you through the pledge process,” Magro said. “Please be sure to note the gift is being made in honor of ND cycling.”

The weekend’s dedication to the Ara Parseghian Foundation is one of many examples of Notre Dame’s ties with the Parseghian Foundation. Last year, the Foundation established the $2.5 million Michael, Marcia and Christa Parseghian Endowment for Excellence. It dedicated $500,000 to support an annual scientific conference at Notre Dame.

Magro said he is hopeful for what might come from this bond.

“Actually, a Notre Dame professor made a large breakthrough in NPC research earlier in the week,” he said. “So it’s exciting to be a small part of what looks to be a large success to come.”

For the University’s students, this relationship allows another chance to give back to the community.

“We got the opportunity to not only do something we all enjoy, cycling, but also make a meaningful difference,” Magro said. “It’s a cause very close to the Notre Dame community’s heart.”