August 5, 2005

VUSN’s King readies for ride of her life

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VUSN’s Joan King, Ph.D., will be on the team riding across the country with cycling icon Lance Armstrong to raise awareness about cancer and the need for additional research funding.

VUSN’s King readies for ride of her life

Members of the Tour of Hope will hit the road Sept. 29 in San Diego and ride across America to Washington, D.C., to raise awareness for the need for cancer research funding.

Members of the Tour of Hope will hit the road Sept. 29 in San Diego and ride across America to Washington, D.C., to raise awareness for the need for cancer research funding.

Her battle with cancer may have ended seven years ago, but it continues to shape life's journey for Joan King, Ph.D., M.S.N.

The director of the Acute Care Nurse Practitioner Program at the Vanderbilt University School of Nursing has been chosen to ride across the country alongside seven-time Tour de France winner and fellow cancer survivor Lance Armstrong in a campaign called the Bristol-Myers Squibb Tour of Hope.

“I'm excited. I'm honored. I'm training very hard. I just hope I can be a strong team member. I'm the oldest woman on the team. It's going to be a huge, physically demanding challenge,” said King. But the breast cancer survivor says her past experiences have helped prepare her for this journey. “The ride itself, in many ways, is meant to correlate with having cancer. It's a team approach, you need experts there to help you and you don't always know what's ahead.”

King, along with 23 other teammates from across the nation, will cover 3,300 miles in nine days on a custom-designed Trek bike. The team has been broken into groups of six, who will take turns pounding the pavement 24 hours a day, logging about 100 miles per group. The Tour starts Sept. 29 in San Diego and ends Oct. 8 in Washington, D.C. The cyclists will make several stops along the way to raise awareness about cancer and the need for increased funding to support clinical research. The tour will make a stop in Austin, Texas, on Oct. 2, the anniversary of Armstrong's cancer diagnosis.

King first found her passion for cycling while undergoing radiation treatment for breast cancer. She had a mastectomy and was told her typical workout, swimming laps in the pool, would not be an option while she healed. So, she began mountain biking and then moved into road biking. Her first major road race was along 25 miles of the Natchez Trace. When she finished, she learned it was a benefit to raise money for a cyclist who had been diagnosed with testicular cancer; a guy by the name of Lance Armstrong. At the time, King had no idea who he was or that one day their paths in life would cross while biking together for the same mission.

Ever since then, King has never been far from her bike and the open road. She first learned about the Tour of Hope in 2003, and went to Washington, D.C. to join Armstrong and other Tour riders in the last leg and finale of the event. This year, she got the call to make the entire trek as an official member of the Tour team.

King is in great shape to begin the journey, having ridden about 80 to 100 miles a week before being chosen. Now, she receives a specialized training schedule to prepare for the Tour of Hope from the same trainers who helped Armstrong clinch his international titles. “I bike six days a week focusing on cadence and heart rate, not really on the miles,” she said, adding that it adds up to about 150 to 170 miles a week.

King's friend and colleague, Bo Mistak, M.S.N., an Acute Care Nurse Practitioner in Cardiac Surgery at VUMC, has been riding with her over the last four years, and even joined her in 2003 for the Tour's stop in Washington, D.C. She continues to be at King's side as she trains for this challenging mission.

“Every week the trainers send her a training schedule that has us climbing hills in hard gears and pedaling in cadences that make our hearts race. It is hard, but great to see the rewards of training. We groan and laugh all the way up hill,” said Mistak. “Joan is in a unique position as a cancer survivor, health care provider and teacher. She can have an impact on the lives of her friends, patients and students with her positive attitude and passion for life. She is a sensitive and empathetic person and it would be so easy to be overwhelmed, but Joan is upbeat and tireless.”

When King and the other cyclists on the Tour finish their cross-country journey they will hand deliver signed “Promise” cards to Washington, D.C., from people they've met along the ride and have encouraged to get educated about cancer and their own personal risk factors. Anyone can sign up to ride with Armstrong and the Tour team when they reach the U.S. Capitol or sign the “Promise” online at: