Riders of all ages and skill levels are invited to participate in CowaLUNGa July 30 – August 1, 2022. The charity ride is a summertime cycling tradition in Northern Illinois and Southern Wisconsin that helps raise money for lung disease research and programs.
Since 1998, John Fortmann has taken to the trails of northern Illinois and southern Wisconsin for Respiratory Health Association’s (RHA) CowaLUNGa Charity Bike Tour. Last year, he rode in his milestone 20th ride to raise money for healthy lungs and clean air.
“I live with asthma and was drawn to the event immediately, knowing it was a great way to support RHA’s programs for kids with asthma,” John Fortmann shares. “I spent a lot of time in and out of the hospital as a kid and wanted to do something that would help. Not to mention, I love to get out on my bike, and it seemed like a lot of fun.”
In January of 1999, shortly after his first CowaLUNGa ride, John spent three days in the hospital due to an asthma flare up. Fortunately, he worked with his doctor to get on a new medicine and has been able to manage his asthma with few issues ever since.
“It was a reminder of why lung health is so important to me. It pushed me to keep riding each year – to help people living with lung disease like myself, and for those like my dad who had struggled breathing later in his life.”John Fortmann
Riders like John carry on the spirit and energy of CowaLUNGa, an event RHA will host for its 26th year this July 30, 31, and August 1. The route kicks off at Gurnee Mills in Gurnee, Illinois and winds through Lake County before entering southern Wisconsin. With 18-, 65-, 130-, and 190-mile ride options, hundreds of riders of all ages and skill levels regularly take part in this summertime cycling tradition. Along the way, they help raise money for lung disease research and programs.
“I am always in awe of the spirit and camaraderie these riders bring to Cow weekend every year,” said Gina Schwieger, RHA’s Senior Director of Special Events. “You get to know people along the way that may even become lifelong friends – all while pedaling for a good cause.”
The tour raises awareness and funds to fight lung diseases like asthma, lung cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and COVID-19 since its emergence in 2020 – as well as supporting clean air and other healthy lung initiatives. Virtual riders can also log miles from wherever they want across the country. This was another way to bring the Cow community together during the pandemic, when a normal ride wasn’t possible. It also helped welcome riders we had never met before, like Julie Hubbell.
Julie’s fight against lung cancer has been uniquely challenging for both her and the medical staff at St. Mary’s in Hobart, Indiana. Julie, an outspoken advocate for her medical care, worked with the doctors and nurses at St. Mary’s to help save her life. Her lung cancer diagnosis marked yet another challenge from lung disease, after she was diagnosed with COPD several years earlier.
With the encouragement of her healthcare team, family, and friends, Julie persevered through two years of treatment – turning the tide against her cancer. “This,” she says, referencing her bike and her Cow rides, “is kind of my getting back to living.”
As Julie gets ready for another virtual bike ride this summer, she reflects on her own will and the family that pushed her forward. Her determination and love for her family have never changed, but so much else has. Her next challenge is living in this new reality.
“The old me is gone. I’m trying to figure out who the new me is. And cycling will be a big part of that.”Julie Hubbell
You can join the Cow fun and help raise money to support the fight against lung disease. Registration for the 2022 tour is open until event weekend. To learn more and register, visit resphealth.org/cowalunga.