In May 2008, my son Pablo was diagnosed with bilateral Wilms' tumor, a rare kidney cancer, just before his fifth birthday. Thirteen months later, I walked up a steep road at the top of Forest Lawn cemetery in Los Angeles with my wife Jo Ann and our 14-year-old son Grady beside me. Our son Pablo, age 6, was with us, too. He was in his casket, being wheeled up the hill on a horse-drawn carriage. We were walking amid hundreds of family, friends, neighbors, and the community to take our little boy to his grave.
In September 2009, I was on the shores of the Atlantic Ocean in St. Augustine, Fla. Before dawn that morning, I began a journey that would change my life. I dipped the back wheel of my racing bike in the salty ocean water and, along with my friend Rick Babington, began pedaling westward. Our goal? The Pacific coast. We wouldn't stop until we reached that steep road at Forest Lawn. The finish line for our epic bike ride was Pablo's grave. Getting there, I thought, would bring dignity to this fucked-up way that my son lost his life and would shine a light back into the tunnel that so many children would find themselves in in the future. Pablo was our guide.
In a not-so-clever nod to our friends at the ultra endurance event Race Across America, I dubbed our journey Pablove Across America, after the foundation that Jo Ann, Grady, Pablo, and I started early in Pablo's treatment.
So 3,500 miles and 30 days later, we had ridden through every imaginable road and weather condition in every climate zone the United States had to offer. We had rolled our bikes into hospitals in New Orleans, Houston, and Phoenix to visit bedside with kids who were in treatment. We laughed with them; I wept in every hospital hallway, comforted by Rick, who must have been terrified at the entire situation. As the kids smiled and asked questions about our bikes, we told them we were riding for them — in the memory of Pablo, my son, who was just like them. And, just as planned, Rick and I ended our ride at Pablo's grave behind the Hollywood sign. What we didn't know is that dozens of other riders would join us for the final week — that we would roll into L.A. as a gang, clad in Pablove cycling kits. But that is what happened. And we arrived there five months after Pablo had been laid to rest.
When we arrived at Forest Lawn with our gang of riders, crew, friends, family, and the community, emotions exploded. A feeling of satisfaction and accomplishment flowed freely. Like sailors who'd been at sea for years, we told our stories to every stranger, neighbor, and Facebook friend who would listen. We had raised $250,000. And we realized we had all the elements to do it again — but bigger.
On Sunday, October 2, we embark on Pablove Across America 2016. I am surrounded by 50 other cyclists, crew members, and Pablove staff. This is our eighth time doing it. But one thing has not changed at all: those kids, starting with Pablo, are the reason we do this.
This week, we will cover 550 miles from Pleasanton, Calif., to Los Angeles. We are going to creep up some epic climbs, carve our way down rapid gnarly descents, push through fatigue and, from time to time, wonder "why the hell am I doing this to myself?" No matter how inside out anyone gets, we always know the answer to that question: We are doing this for the kids. Because every day, 47 children are diagnosed with cancer. Because it could happen to anyone's child. Because pediatric cancer has no boundaries. It is not racist or classist — it can happen to anyone.
We started a daily tradition on that first day back in St. Augustine. Each morning, we dedicate the day's ride to a child who is going through treatment. As we set off on that day's route, we know who we are riding for and you can, too. We will be broadcasting our morning dedications on The Pablove Foundation Facebook Page — I encourage you to check it out. Since 2009, we have raised $3.5 million. It blows me away every year that just 40 riders are able to make such a huge impact. We're not going to stop riding until there are cures and cancer is no longer the No. 1 cause of death by disease in children. To support Pablove Across America visit pablove.org/donatepaa.
Jeff Castelaz is Pablo's papa, and the co-founder and chairman of the board of The Pablove Foundation. Through his company Cast Management — founded in 1990 — Jeff manages Dropkick Murphys, and record producers Tony Hoffer and Justin Meldal-Johnsen. Jeff, a music industry veteran, recently resigned his post as president of Warner Music Group's Elektra Records, and was the co-founder of respected indie Dangerbird. He is from Milwaukee, and attended Milwaukee Trade & Technical High School and Marquette University. You can follow Jeff on Twitter or Instagram.