Doron Kochavi calls it "the journey of a lifetime." The 56-year-old financial consultant and La Cañada Flintridge resident has been selected to join champion cyclist Lance Armstrong and the 23 other members of the 2005 Bristol-Myers Squibb Tour of Hope as they cycle across the country to promote the fight against cancer. The Tour, which begins on September 29, will cover a grueling 3,300 miles in nine days as team members ride from San Diego to Washington, D.C. On the way, they will share a message of hope as they encourage public support of research efforts aimed at discovering a cure for cancer.
Kochavi is all too familiar with cancer's devastating effects: he lost both parents to the deadly disease and then in March 1989, his son, Ari, was also diagnosed with brain cancer at the age of four. Ari was given a 10 percent chance of survival.
Sixteen years later, Ari has more than beaten the odds as he gets ready to celebrate his 21st birthday.
The memory of Ari's heroic - and traumatic - fight against cancer has remained engraved on the hearts and minds of his parents and over the years, Kochavi has only grown more passionate about the importance of cancer research. An avid cyclist, Kochavi learned of the Tour of Hope last year and knew he wanted to be a part of it in 2005.
Kochavi's wife, Phyllis, encouraged and supported Kochavi as he went through the application process, which included written essays and a video-conference interview with the Tour of Hope selection committee. "We knew that it was a great cause," she said. "We knew that Ari's story was a special story, and not just to us."
The selection committee agreed. "We're very pleased that Doron Kochavi is part of the 2005 Bristol-Myers Squibb Tour of Hope team," said Renee Martin, spokesperson for the Tour. "Like his teammates, Doron is committed to sharing his personal cancer story and to inspiring others he meets during the cross-country trek to learn more about cancer clinical trials."
On Sept. 6, the La Cañada Flintridge City Council will issue a proclamation recognizing Kochavi's accomplishment in being selected out of a pool of nearly 1,100 applicants to ride on the Tour.
"He and his family are great assets to the community of La Cañada Flintridge and we wish him well on his ride," said LCF Mayor Anthony Portantino.
City Treasurer Donald Voss also praised Kochavi, saying, "Doron's financial expertise and strong community spirit underlie his valued participation as a member of the city's Investment and Financing Advisory Committee, and his passion about cancer research and clinical trials underlie his well-deserved membership on the Tour of Hope Team."
The Tour of Hope riders are cancer survivors, caregivers, researchers, nurses, and physicians. The team will divide into groups of six that will ride in relay fashion, four to five hours every day. Seven-time Tour de France winner and cancer survivor Lance Armstrong will lead the team at the kick-off in San Diego on Sept. 29 and will accompany them into Washington, D.C, as well as joining the team at various points along the route.
In addition to riding, team members will also appear at events hosted by cancer centers and cancer organizations, encouraging communities to support research and invite them to be a part of the fight against this disease.
Already a strong cyclist, Kochavi is pushing the limits of his endurance as he steps up his training in preparation for the Tour, according to an individualized 16-week training regimen developed by Lance Armstrong's coach, Chris Carmichael.
One of Kochavi's cycling partners is Bennett Ross, the executive director of Frostig Center in Pasadena, a non-profit organization serving children with learning disabilities. "He's taking it very seriously, doing all the work, the miles, putting in the time," Ross said. Ross also expressed his pleasure at having had the chance to get to know Ari, who was enrolled in the Center's program for most of his elementary and high school years. "Ari is a kid with incredible guts, incredible perseverance. We were delighted to be part of his life."
Kochavi says Ari's perseverance in the face of life-threatening obstacles will inspire him to overcome the extreme physical challenges of the tour. For Kochavi, the rigors of the ride are a metaphor for the suffering endured by cancer patients, especially children such as Ari.
"The Tour of Hope will be an opportunity for me to talk of Ari's strength of character," said Kochavi in his Tour of Hope application. "His continued survival is on our minds all the time and while riding with the team, I [will] have the opportunity to remind others that only with continued cancer research and clinical trials will there be more successful outcomes for children."
"I think [Kochavi] will be an outstanding spokesperson," said Dr. Stuart Siegel, Ari's oncologist and director of the Children's Center for Cancer and Blood Diseases at Childrens Hospital in Los Angeles.
"He isn't bashful. He is not afraid to say what he feels and say it with emotion. I know he feels very strongly about the importance of clinical trials," Siegel said.
Kochavi couldn't agree more.
"I am riding because I owe a huge debt to clinical research," he said. "Ari is alive today only because his team of doctors enrolled him in clinical trials for a new medicine. Unfortunately, there are far too many other families who are not as lucky as we are. Cancer is still the No. 1 disease killer of children. I am riding for them."
For more information about the Bristol-Myers Squibb Tour of Hope, visit the tour's website at www.tourofhope.org.