Bill Koman

Andrew Selman

First diagnosed with lymphoma in 2004, Bill Koman is a two-time cancer survivor—with a commitment to take the challenge to another level. That dedication made way for Pedal the Cause, an annual fall cycling event with a mission to provide funding for cancer research at Siteman Cancer Center and St. Louis Children’s Hospital.

“I was treated locally at Siteman Cancer Center and went through chemotherapy and radiation—and I thought it was going to be pretty easy when I was clean for a while in early 2005,” recalls Koman, who is founder of Pedal the Cause and president of The Koman Group. “But nine months later, I had another test, and (the cancer) had returned in the same spot. I went through a more rigorous routine, had more chemo and a bone marrow transplant, and then in early 2006, I was cancer-free.”

About a year later, Koman went into give-back mode and decided to get involved. “To have world-class care in your local community and to not have to leave town for care is tremendous,” he notes. He joined the board of directors for Barnes-Jewish Hospital’s foundation and started helping with its events, like the illumination gala, and started the Cancer Frontier Fund, with the hope of reaching a pretty lofty goal. “We threw out the idea of raising $50 million dollars over the course of 10 years for seed research through a combination of illumination and Pedal the Cause.”

In its first year, Pedal the Cause attracted 800 riders and 300 volunteers and raised more than $910,000. Last year, in its sophomore year, Pedal the Cause had 1,300 riders, donating $1.325 million to Siteman and Children’s Hospital.

Why a cycling event? “I started looking around the country and found that the biggest, stickiest fundraising event that you could do in one day or a weekend was a biking-based event,” Koman explains. Most notably, the Pan-Massachusetts Challenge in Boston and Pelotonia at The Ohio State University served as models and inspiration for Koman and for Pedal the Cause. “We thought that if we brought in the BJC system, Siteman and Washington University, there’s no reason St. Louis couldn’t do this,” he says. “Hopefully, we can grow from 1,300 riders to 2,000 riders and instead of raising $1.325 million, maybe we can raise $2 to $2.5 million and keep growing that formula going forward.”

Koman points out that 100 percent of the funds raised stays in St. Louis. “And we have corporate underwriters and sponsors, like Edward Jones and Anheuser-Busch, so that 100 percent of every dollar raised goes to cancer research,” he says. “I think that’s a very efficient model that motivates people.”

And Koman also notes that finding ways to make a difference with cures, treatments and early diagnoses is, of course, what it is all about at Washington University and BJC. “Genomics is a field where you can start working on targeted therapies, which are more unique to your own body and your own system, and it’s eventually going to become the standard of care. St. Louis has such a great research base and has the opportunity to be on the forefront of this,” he says. “With all this staying in St. Louis, it can have a trickle down effect, creating more jobs and a stronger infrastructure that brings in not just regional but national people to be treated.”

In early 2011, Koman reached his five-year mark of being cancer-free. Among the thousands benefiting from Pedal the Cause, Koman is right there, enjoying the ride. “Learning to ride distances has been a very good thing for me,” he says. “I’ve done 25 and 50 miles and even longer distances, and it’s been pretty rewarding. Being on a bike is a lot easier than spending full days doing chemo treatments or radiation. And when you think about building your body instead of tearing it down, it’s a lot easier to stay committed to help others to not have to go through something like that in the future.”