The first time Lauren Marlotte and her fiancé Darnell Smith rode their bikes 100 miles, they trekked from Santa Barbara to Ojai to Ventura and back, ran out of water and followed a path that partially runs along the shoulder of a freeway.
After that June outing, they said, they're not worried about riding 163 miles over two days this weekend as part of the Pan-Mass Challenge, a Massachusetts charity ride that raises money for cancer treatment and research at Boston's Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.
"If we can do that 100 [miles] in the hot sun while we're dehydrated and exhausted and we're riding on the freeway and up and down hills, we can do 80 miles over two days," Smith said during an interview in the couple's Glendale home this week.
The duo rarely rode bikes before they started training for the Pan-Mass Challenge, in which they will honor Marlotte's mom, Sue Marlotte, who suffered from various forms of cancer over two decades. She had breast cancer twice and colon cancer and then, at 61, she died from a rare form of leukemia, a blood cancer, in 2012.
Family and friends gathered in July 2013 — about eight months after Sue Marlotte died — to bury her ashes at a family plot in Cape May, an ocean-side city in New Jersey where she spent her summers as a child.
During that family reunion, Lauren Marlotte's uncle pitched an idea. He wanted to ride the Pan-Mass Challenge in honor of his sister, whose positivity and caring nature had inspired so many, and encourage others to do it with him.
Her uncles Ken and Joe Duckworth and her brother, Rob Duckworth, had all ridden the Pan-Mass Challenge, which is one of the largest cancer fundraisers, in 1999.
While Ken Duckworth, who had testicular cancer 25 years ago, and her brother will be riding again this year, Joe Duckworth, who has multiple myeloma, a cancer that starts in plasma cells in bone marrow, will be part of their support team.
Joe Duckworth discovered his multiple myeloma after getting tested to be a bone-marrow-transplant donor for his sister. He matched, but he couldn't be a donor because of his own illness. A stranger from Be the Match Foundation, a nonprofit organization that connects cancer patients with bone-marrow donors, ended up being Sue Marlotte's donor.
After that July weekend, Lauren Marlotte, a psychology fellow at Children's Hospital Los Angeles, and her fiancé, an engineering process manager at FM Global, bought bike gear and started training in the Glendale hills.
When the challenge kicks off on Friday, they will be joined by seven others on "A Team Named Sue" and more than 5,800 other participants. There are a few routes, but "A Team Named Sue" will be riding from Wellesley to Bourne and then the next day to Provincetown in Cape Cod.
A picture of Marlotte's mother, smiling, is printed on the backs of their jerseys.
Lauren Marlotte remembers her mother as someone who was open about her diseases, kept fighting to survive and was always positive. Her mother was first diagnosed with breast cancer when Lauren Marlotte was 10 years old. She is now 31.
When Lauren Marlotte's mother started losing her hair from chemotherapy, she handed her daughter a pair of scissors to give her a haircut — in any style that she wanted.
"I remember her being like 'This is what I'm going to do, I'm going to embrace this and make a happy moment out of something that could end up being very, very sad,'" Lauren Marlotte, said. "Instead of crying and moping about it, she was like 'How can I make this fun?'"
Lauren Marlotte's fiancé first met Sue Duckworth at her 60th birthday celebration at a restaurant in Ann Arbor. It was a big bash filled with family and friends. Sue Duckworth, who was using a wheelchair at the time, grabbed onto Smith's arm for balance. She didn't want to spend her 60th birthday in a wheelchair, he said.
"She was working the room. She was on," Smith, 40, said.
Lauren Marlotte's team will be spending the night in between day one and day two of the challenge at her uncle's house in Sandwich, a small town just seven miles from the Saturday starting line.
That house was one of her mother's favorite places. She loved to sit in the grassy yard with views of Cape Cod's shore and a boardwalk. When she gets tired of riding, Lauren Marlotte plans to picture her mother relaxing in that yard to keep her going. That space is a special place for her family and she and her fiancé are set to get married there in September.
Each member of "A Team Named Sue" has raised $4,300 individually.
In addition, the team has collected $45,000, some of which hasn't been recorded yet on the Pan-Mass Challenge website. Their team fundraising goal is $50,000.