Team Wheel Strong’s mission to spread hope through the Ride

Team Wheel Strong is a fundraising powerhouse for Ride for Roswell. In 2023 alone, the efforts of more than 50 riders helped to surpass the team’s fundraising goal of $45,000.

Reflecting on Wheel Strong’s growth since the team was started only three years ago, co-captain Eliot Jimerson became emotional.

“This was not in my plans,” he said with tears in his eyes. “People suffer, and I don’t like to see that. That’s why we ride.”

Eliot Jimerson of Team Wheel Strong at Ride for Roswell's Celebration of Hope.
This is a photo of Eliot Jimerson and Geneva Locke of Team Wheel Strong at Ride for Roswell.

How Team Wheel Strong began

Eliot felt the same helplessness so many of us do when someone close to him lost a loved one to cancer.

He explained, “I just didn’t have any words, so I said to my daughter, “It feels like I should do more. What could we do?’”

Geneva Locke, Eliot’s daughter, came up with the idea to register for the Ride.

“We decided together as a father and a daughter that we were going to participate in the Ride, and we never knew at that time the overwhelming amount of hope and support there is around Roswell Park,” said Geneva.

Eliot added, “Everybody kept saying, ‘I want to ride,’ and it turned into a team.”

From family, to friends, to community, Team Wheel Strong became a welcome space for anyone motivated to fight back against cancer.

Community at the center

“Our team is made up largely of our community, and our home base is on the Seneca Nation Territory, but our team also branches out with other Native Nations,” said Geneva.

With riders from several other indigenous communities joining the movement, Team Wheel Strong’s efforts to raise awareness for Roswell Park spread far beyond Ride Weekend. 

“It started out as community involvement. We had a lot of pop-up rides that first year because our kids wanted to get on their bikes. We would advertise these pop-up rides and charge a small fee for families,” Geneva explained. “It was more or less to provide a safe place for our community members to ride with their families on territory because we don’t have sidewalks and the roads are very busy. We would use our community center, and everybody was just so supportive.”

The more they got involved, the more they came across other people who had been affected by cancer. Those personal connections are what the team captains believe have helped Wheel Strong gain so much momentum.

“If you count all the support around us, it’s around 65 people. There are people who are involved and don’t ride, but they do a lot of the work and they’re the ones who deserve a lot of recognition,” said Eliot.

Members of Team Wheel Strong at the Ride for Roswell kickoff party.
Members of Team Wheel Strong at Ride for Roswell in 2021
Team Wheel Strong Logo

The significance of the Wheel Strong logo

It’s easy to spot a Team Wheel Strong rider because their jerseys are so unique and prominent. Coming up with a design was no easy feat.

Geneva, who was the mastermind behind the logo, explained the inspiration.

“My grandpa, who suffered from cancer, used to be able to ride a unicycle. He also had a single wheel that he would push around with this wire cord and run behind it, and the kids always thought it was a great time. So, it was important to me to include a wheel,” she exclaimed with a smile.

“We knew we wanted to have some sort of cultural touch to it and that’s where we decided to put the Hiawatha Belt, which represents the Haudenosaunee and signifies the unity of our people as well as our team.”

Designating funds from the Ride

Riders have the option to designate their fundraising dollars to a specific area of need. Several riders on Team Wheel Strong, including Geneva, are choosing to designate their funds to Roswell Park’s Center of Indigenous Cancer Research.

“If you can have something that you can identify with, that warms your heart, feels like home, especially when you’re walking into a scary situation like a cancer diagnosis, that’s what the Indigenous Center can grow to do for many of our community members that have to turn to Roswell Park every year,” said Geneva.

Looking forward to Ride Weekend

Ride Weekend is a multi-generational celebration for Eliot and Geneva’s family.

“Crossing the finish line, I think of my team. I think of my grandkids,” said Eliot. “I have my grandson who I ride with. He’s a little guy, but he does 30 miles.”

And despite the heaviness and sadness around cancer, they try to keep the atmosphere for their team one of positivity and unity.

“All I ever wanted Wheel Strong to do was provide hope for those who fight the fight. Hopefully one day we’re all just cheering for the end of cancer,” Geneva explained.

Eliot added, “There’s so much hatred in the world it seems sometimes, but when you come together for a cause and put all your differences aside, I believe that’s when miracles can happen. And that’s what I see with the Ride.”

Eliot Jimerson and his grandson Myles of Team Wheel Strong at Ride for Roswell