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Cycling event spins to area
Cycling2 4.8
For The Times Robert Wilhite, an avid cyclist and professional cycling coach, is organizing the inaugural Jackson County Brevet, a bike ride scheduled for June 19.

Jackson County Brevet
8 a.m. June 19
Where: Various cycling routes throughout Jackson County, starting at Zion Baptist Church in Braselton
How much: $30-$65, depending on number of participants and route
More info:

BRASELTON — This month, the world of cycling will descend upon Jackson County.

The inaugural Jackson County Brevet (pronounced bruh-vaay) will start at 8 a.m. June 19 at Zion Baptist Church in Braselton. The ride promises to offer cyclists of all experience levels a leisurely tour of Jackson County via a family-friendly 5-mile loop — or 35-, 65-, or 100-mile routes — that all traverse smooth, rolling and flat terrain, said ride organizer and founder Robert Wilhite.

The ride will also be a first for the Jackson County area. In February, Wilhite, 47, began planning the ride along with Cody Yancey, owner of Addictive Cycles in Hoschton.

Wilhite, an avid cyclist and professional cycling coach from Lawrenceville, said while metro Atlanta offers several cycling events, Jackson County remains largely unexplored.

"There has been no organized century ride in Jackson County until now," he said.

Besides hoping to bring organized cycling into Jackson County, the ride is also a personal one for Wilhite. Ride proceeds will benefit the Aplastic Anemia & MDS International Foundation, Inc., an organization that researches bone marrow failure diseases, and a topic Wilhite and his wife, Kelly, know well.

Kelly Wilhite suffers from aplastic anemia, a rare disorder that the medical Web site WebMD cites as being caused by almost complete bone marrow failure.

Bone marrow, the red spongy core of a person’s long bones, produces white blood cells, which protect the body from infection. Red blood cells also carry oxygen from the lungs to the rest of the body, and platelets, which are crucial in allowing blood to clot.

Aplastic anemia develops when a person’s bone marrow stops producing enough of these blood cells, according to WebMD. Treatment options include blood transfusions, medication and bone marrow transplants.

Diagnosed at age 19, doctors at first told Kelly Wilhite she wouldn’t survive two months. "I believe the hand of God is what saved me," said Wilhite, now 43. When she was first diagnosed, doctors could not find a compatible bone marrow match for her, a treatment option for younger patients. Since then, Wilhite has received blood transfusions, which she credits with keeping her alive.

She said the disorder can cause fatigue, bruising and bleeding, as well as affect a person’s immune system, making them more susceptible to stress, trauma and sickness.

When her husband of just over a year — the couple was married in March 2009 — decided to organize the ride, Wilhite said she was touched. Throughout her battle with aplastic anemia, Wilhite has witnessed first-hand the disorder’s emotional toll.

"I thought about everybody that has suffered through this and especially if they’re at the point where I was in the hospital and I had to watch my parents know that they could lose their daughter," she said, her voice breaking. "There’s ways to prevent that and I was just so happy to know and pleased to know that his (Robert’s) heart is where my heart is now and that’s to help people with this."

Robert Wilhite said in the 25 years his wife has lived with aplastic anemia, treatment options for the disorder have not changed. "I was shocked at that (and) I said I just can’t sit around and not do anything to try to change something like this," he said. "Finally in February of this year, I told Kelly, ‘You know what? I can’t change the world, but I do know cycling.’"

Though he admits it is lofty for a first-time event, Wilhite hopes to have at least 400 cyclists ride this June and raise more than $5,000 for the foundation. Despite the recession, Wilhite said he’s already received overwhelming support from the community.
"The whole area has just erupted in a huge excitement about an event like this coming in their back door," he said.

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