George Pollock (far right) and his team before the 2017 Race Across America.

Racing for a personal cause

George Pollock discovered his love of cycling as a student at the Fisher School of Accounting while competing on the UF club cycling team that made the collegiate cycling national championships at Stanford University in 1990. Over 25 years later, he channeled his passion for cycling into a more personal outcome.

Pollock (BSAC ‘89, MACC ’90) first experienced muscle atrophy in his right leg in his late 20s. He began experiencing similar symptoms in his left leg 12 years later. Doctors originally thought the atrophy was happening because of a bike injury, but it was later diagnosed as FSH Muscular Dystrophy. FSHD results in certain muscle death over time and causes an inability to walk or raise your arms.

The worst thing someone with FSH Muscular Dystrophy can do, Pollock learned, is to stop moving. The diagnosis did not deter his cycling workouts. If anything, the diagnosis made Pollock more driven to complete them.

“I have been my own science study to see what I can and cannot do,” Pollock said. “There is a balance. If I do not work out, the muscles become stiff and walking is more cumbersome. There is a sweet spot where I can work out and it is not too much or too little.

Then came an even bigger idea.

Pollock wanted to find an event that was “epic in nature” to use as a platform that would raise money for research to find a cure for FSH Muscular Dystrophy. His search led him to the Race Across America, a cycling race that encompasses 3,000 miles, climbs 175,000 feet and crosses through 12 states. Pollock built an eight-person relay team, strategically aiming to find the right mix of riders for the 2017 race.

“We had to do something eye-catching because a lot of people do rides,” Pollock said. “I wanted to do something meaningful that was a challenge and fun but would still catch attention.”

Pollock spent many nights staring at spread sheets and planning intricate details of the trip – when would be best for each cyclist to ride, how to transition as quickly as possible and how to handle any equipment issues. Luckily, the group finished its ride with minimal issues and only a few flat tires.

They did battle extreme weather. Through California and Arizona, they rode through a record heat wave. Later in Kansas, it was a hail storm that attempted to slow the group down, and the remnants of a tropical storm hit in Ohio and West Virginia. But amidst the hurdles that also included construction zones, the group persevered and finished the race only a little behind schedule.

“Everyone was sleeping 3-to-4 hours at most, and there were a few all-nighters for everyone,” Pollock said. “The focus was to finish at the end of the day safely, but you are on the clock and the race does not stop until the end. You are rallying behind a common goal.”

The group’s work raised $107,000 for the FSH Society and reached 400 people who had never heard of FSH Muscular Dystrophy.

But their work is not done. Pollock recently committed to participating in the race again in 2019. He will team up with four cyclists and four crew members from the 2017 team while adding in some new faces and chasing the same goal – to raise more money and increase awareness of FSH Muscular Dystrophy.

“It is an opportunity to help raise more money and fund more research,” Pollock said. “It is a great platform, life changing experience and we are making a difference which will help a million individuals afflicted with this disease.”