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Family Rides For a Personal Cause

The Whittakers have a tough road ahead of them this weekend. But it's nothing compared to what they've already overcome. The whole family -- parents Martin and Brenda, and children Luke, Nathan and Grace -- will take marathon-length bike rides in the Connecticut Challenge Saturday to raise money for cancer survivorship programs. The cause is especially important to Luke.

Luke was first diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia just before Christmas 2002, when he was just 5 years old. Worse still, Luke relapsed in the summer of 2004, as the family transitioned from Toronto to Darien. "It was a hammer blow," Martin said. "Luke was still undergoing chemo."

This time around, he needed a bone marrow transplant. Then 2-year-old Grace turned out to be a perfect match. "They were worried that they weren't going to get enough marrow from her, because she was so young," Martin said. "But she's a tall girl. And she's got what we called super-marrow."

Luke is now fully recovered, and very much a normal 12-year-old boy. In fact, he was only able to squeeze in a chat between a morning soccer game and an afternoon playing video games with his friends.

Not long after the surgery, Martin found out about the Connecticut Challenge. Wanting to help others in his family's situation, he signed up for a 100-mile course, and has done the same each of the five years since. Luke graduated from the kids' loop to the 25-mile run last year, and hopes to move up to the 50-mile next year. Nathan and Grace will stay on the children's course for now, but regardless, the whole family has been training together.

"It's long. It's a marathon. It's something you don't think you can finish," Martin said about the ride. "It's just like cancer treatment. You've got to have guts, determination, belief -- all the things you need if you're going to beat the disease."

To join the Whittakers in the Connecticut Challenge, or make a donation, visit the page for their group, Team Darien-New Canaan .

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