Going the distance: renewing friendship through the STP
Jim (left) and Dave (right) show their STP finisher badges at the 2018 finish line celebration
Jim Kolasa’s story is one of friendship that has gone the distance—205 miles of distance, all the way to Portland, to be exact. But more important than the number of miles ridden is the perspective gained along the way—the kind that comes only from surviving something that makes you remember what’s really important in life.
Jim’s story goes back to high school, when he and his friend Dave passed the time working at a county park in southern Florida, where Jim grew up. Despite the area’s naturally flat landscape, the park boasted the best mountain biking around, constructed of man-made fill from flood control lakes. Jim recalls fondly that despite there being “no actual mountains,” the park featured an admirable single track course and some highly technical sections. “We rode every evening after work in the summer and most weekends during my senior year of high school,” Jim recalls. “It was incredibly satisfying, despite me having done every trail in the park numerous times.”
Eventually Jim headed off to college at Florida State and joined the Air Force as a pilot. He spent time stationed in both Florida and New Mexico, with the latter opening up a whole new world of biking possibilities thanks to its “actual mountains,” he now recalls.
But in September 2017 life threw Jim a curveball when he suffered an unexpected seizure and ended up in the hospital, where he was subsequently diagnosed with brain cancer at just 34 years old. Jim’s doctors acted quickly to remove the tumor within a few days, and he was eventually discharged to recover at home. The road ahead would include three months of radiation and 12 months of chemotherapy.
To help build strength during his recovery, Jim ventured into road cycling, a departure from his first love of mountain biking. Jim was interested in trying out a long-distance ride and got in touch with his old cycling friend Dave, who now lived in Seattle. Dave suggested the 2018 Seattle to Portland (STP), and Jim was all in, even arranging a break from chemo during the week before and after the STP. Dave’s mom, who was also dealing with a cancer diagnosis of her own, purchased both ride registrations as a gift of support and solidarity. In July, Jim traveled up from New Mexico to join Dave, rented a road bike from a local shop and completed the 200-mile journey in two days. Sadly, Dave’s mom passed away in the spring, just a few months prior to the STP. Even though she couldn’t be there to cheer them on in person, Jim says her passing made the STP a no-fail mission for the two friends. “She would have been proud when we completed it,” he says.
Looking back on the training process and the ride itself, Jim remembers it as a validation of perseverance in the face of a challenging time. “I had no doubt that I would complete the STP because I decided I would, and that was it,” he says. “Luckily my confidence did not let me down.”
Today, Jim can’t say for sure when the next STP is in store for him, but he says maybe the one-day ride could be on the table for a future challenge. But more important than the challenge itself, he recalls the 2018 STP as a chance to reconnect with an old friend over a shared experience. “Cancer has put things in perspective on what is truly important in my life, and for me, it is my family and my friends.” He was officially declared in remission in December 2018.
Jim sums up his STP experience as one that we hear often: “Man, that was a wild ride.”
We’re looking forward to seeing all the STP riders who ride for a cause at the 40th anniversary finish line this July.
Registration for the 2019 Seattle to Portland is now open.