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Tour is a chance to get healthy and give back

August 29, 2018

La PORTE – Rain and storms threatened Saturday morning, and roads were thick with fog early Sunday, but that didn’t deter folks from walking, running and cycling in the annual Tour de La Porte.

The Healthcare Foundation of La Porte hosted the 18th annual three-day event, designed to raise money to help cancer patients in La Porte County.

The project was the brainchild of Larry Noel 19 years ago after having ridden for other charity groups. He’d worked with the American Lung Association and hoped to get support for people in La Porte.

Things have changed since then, but the Lung Association wanted 95 percent to go back to the national charity, Noel said, for simply using their logo. So he reached out to childhood friend Greg Fruth and his wife Maria, who were with the Healthcare Foundation.

Since that time, Noel has ridden in the Tour and for the past 10 years has run one of the several rest stops along the cycling routes.

Cyclists refer to his rest stops as the stuff of legend. Sunday’s offerings at Firefly Farms included doughnuts, drinks, homemade chicken and noodles, strawberry shortcake and even musical entertainment. Typically rest stops have peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, fruit and water, so he knows cyclists look forward to the spread he puts out.

“I would have people ride the hundred miles and then come back to eat,” Noel said.

Firefly Farms owner Jim Laughlin is no stranger to cycling or the Foundation – he’s a member of the board and an avid rider. He offered his home as a rest stop along the route for a second year. Rolling hills, barns, wagons and even horses serve as a respite for weary riders.

“Larry Noel does a fabulous job, I just provide a venue and take the credit,” Laughlin jokes.

Many of those participating in the three-day event do so for personal reasons. Runners like Steven Sawaya have used the 5K run on Saturday to kick-start a health regimen.

“I started here five years ago. It was the first race I ran and I ran it in 46 minutes and 30 seconds,” said Sawaya.

He weighed in at 286 pounds then, but five years later and 115 pounds lighter, Sawaya finished in 23 minutes. Tour de La Porte starts a healthy lifestyle, he said. Now he also competes in Spartan races and, by the end of the season, will have run 10 different events.

An event of this scale requires a lot of money from corporate sponsors and the help of many volunteers. Maria Fruth said nearly 90 volunteers helped with the runs Saturday, and over 100 assisted with the cycling events on Sunday.

For Heather Schoof, volunteering suddenly become much more personal. The busy single mother has been assisting with the Tour for several years, but shortly after last year’s event, her mother was diagnosed with Stage 3 breast cancer.

“They helped her with her bills; they gave her rides to chemo; they did her grocery shopping. They’ll do just about anything. She just had to make a phone call,” Schoof said.

Her mother is still undergoing chemo as a preventative measure, but the Health Foundation has been there to help with the things Medicare and Medicaid just don’t cover. Schoof said the Foundation took some of the stress out of an extremely stressful situation – part of the reason she continues to volunteer.

“The more I learn about the not-for-profit world, the more I learn about the impact a community can have on their own environment, the more interested I became continuing to help,” she said.

The Foundation provides funding for things like transportation to and from treatment, sometimes to Chicago or Indianapolis. Through fundraising efforts like Tour de La Porte, it also provide assistance with medications, negotiates pricing for hotel stays for family members and even shopping.

Not including this year, the $656,000 dollars raised has helped more than 900 people in La Porte County.

Maria Fruth, tour director and foundation board member, said, “We’re hoping that we’re going to nab between $55,000 and $75,000. The beauty of this particular fund is that there are no fees associated with it – 100 percent goes to the patients, everything else is assimilated by the foundation.

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