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Fennimore native rides from Mississippi River to Lake Michigan to raise money for Blood Cancer research
Fennimore native Heidi Freymiller raises her bike overhead in triumph while standing in Lake Michigan in Milwaukee after completing a two-day, 198-mile ride across the state July 19 to raise money for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.

EDITOR'S NOTE: The Athlete of the Week is a web-only feature that will publish each Thursday throughout the calendar year.

Heidi Freymiller, Madison (1998 Fennimore High School graduate), bicycling

From the shores of the Mississippi River in Prairie du Chien all the way to the edge of Lake Michigan in downtown Milwaukee — that’s one heck of a Sunday drive, in a car, right?!

Now, imagine covering those 198 miles on a bicycle, through one thunderstorm and plenty of beautiful blue skies, over two days, 23 hours total. That’s exactly how Fennimore native Heidi Freymiller spent the weekend of July 18–19; a remarkable journey for a truly remarkable human being for a great cause.

Freymiller, 40, a 1998 graduat of Fennimore High School, began riding in the Scenic Shores 150 Bike Tour four years ago to raise money to find a cure for blood cancer.

The Scenic Shore 150 Bike Tour is a two-day, 150-mile, fully-supported cycling event from Mequon to Manitowoc to Sturgeon Bay, open to riders of all ages and abilities. One of Wisconsin’s most popular bike rides, the Scenic Shore 150 is the largest locally organized and supported event for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. To date the event has raised more than $1.4 million and continues to be one of the premier charity cycling events in the Midwest.

“My participation in the Scenic Shores 150 started four or five years ago when I was traveling for work with a colleague, Nancy McVary,” said Freymiller, who previously worked for the Wisconsin Department of Children and Families’ Wisconsin Shares program. “As we were talking in the car on an hour-and-a-half commute each way, I told Nancy I enjoyed biking for fun, and she told me about long bike rides she participated in to raise money for blood cancer. At that point, I had been biking for [HF1] about 10 years, and she invited me to join their team.”

Freymiller, who lives in Madison and now works from home as a copy editor/document specialist for Walter R. McDonald and Associates, a federal contractor for Health and Human Services, began biking 15 years ago.

“I had a young daughter at the time and we bought bikes for our family and it was an opportunity for family time,” said Freymiller. “I started using the bike for exercise and an opportunity to escape the stress of the day. I started going on longer and longer rides, then Nancy asked me to join the Lymphomanics to raise money for blood cancer and I just started going crazy with the distance rides.”

Freymiller rode in her first Scenic Shore 150 in July of 2016 in honor of her aunt Marcia Bahl of Fennimore, a blood cancer survivor who continues to live with the disease. Freymiller raised more than $1,600 that first year for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, and has raised around $2,000 every year since.

This year’s Scenic Shores 150, scheduled for July 18-19, was cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but Freymiller decided to ride across the state on the same weekend as the scheduled tour.

“There is an organized bike ride called Ride Across Wisconsin that I heard about several years ago and wanted to participate in,” said Freymiller. “I can do long distances, but I am not fast enough to participate in the organized Ride Across Wisconsin. Unfortunately, the Scenic Shores 150 was cancelled this year, but I had already planned to ride that entire weekend, so I decided to ride from Prairie du Chien to Milwaukee on my own.”

Freymiller began her trek across the state Saturday, July 18 at 7:40 a.m. in Prairie du Chien and rode U.S. 18 all the way to Dodgeville with the aid of her parents Galen and Peggy Freymiller of Fennimore.

“My parents still treat me like a 7-year old princess and make me feel so loved,” Freymiller said. “I woke up to breakfast ready and coffee started for me. They saw me off at the start line and met me several times along the way to Cobb.”

Everything went well early in the ride until Freymiller reached River Ridge High School in Patch Grove where an unexpected thunderstorm moved in, drenching Freymiller.

“When I started in the morning, there was only a 10 or 20 percent chance of rain,” said Freymiller. “Nothing about a thunderstorm was mentioned. I had to stop and check the radar at the church in Mount Ida to see if I could even continue the ride, but I just kept going. For about 14 miles, my dad followed me in the car from Patch Grove to Fennimore with his flashers on because that 20 percent chance of rain turned into a thunderstorm. It was dark, pouring rain, and I did not have my lights and still would have not been safe if I did.”

Once in Fennimore, she took a planned stop at her aunt Marcia’s house, then on to Grab A Cone in Montfort and to her brother Dustin Freymiller’s house in Cobb, where she stopped for lunch with friends and family.

Freymiller’s partner Josh Hauser brought her dry clothes and she was able to change. “I’d be a real jerk if I didn’t mention that he makes things happen at home while I am out training for hours and sometimes a day at a time,” she said.

Her cousin Kari Kratochwill joined the ride in Cobb and took over as support on the rest of Saturday’s 110-mile ride to Madison. She also brought friend Patrick Brennan, who joined Freymiller on his bike for the rest of the two-day ride.

To Freymiller’s surprise, Kratochwill organized friends and family members to be sprinkled along the route to cheer Freymiller on.

“I cannot tell you how much this means to me that they all decided to come out and it is still literally bringing tears to my eyes,” added Freymiller.

The pair rode from Cobb to Dodgeville along U.S. 18, then took the Military Ridge Trail through Ridgeway, Barneveld and Verona to her home on the east side of Madison, where they finished the day’s ride around 9 p.m.

Day 2 got off to a slower start, and Freymiller and Brennan got on the rode around 8:20 a.m. “We planned to start at 8, but I was running late as usual,” Freymiller joked.

Freymiller’s best friend Christina Land and her wife Shelly Jensen provided support on Sunday.

“Shelly drove my car to Milwaukee so we could drive home after dinner. Christina provided us with support all day,” said Freymiller. “They also took care of lunch and dinner, let us shower at their place after the ride, and I did not have to worry about a thing. Having SAG in a ride like this meant we did not have to carry extra water or snacks on our bikes with us. There was always cold water and food waiting for us when we needed it. Especially on a hot day like Saturday, it is the difference between failure and success. I was basically fueled on pickles and beef sticks on Saturday.”

Freymiller and Brennan biked from the east side of Madison to Cottage Grove to join the Glacial Drumlin State Trail and followed that to Waukesha, where they rode a network of trails in Milwaukee County to the shore of Lake Michigan, arriving around 6 p.m.

“It was a pretty exciting couple of days,” said Freymiller. “My first day was 110 miles, the most I have ever rode in one day. The second day was 88 miles, and the 198 miles total was my most in a two-day ride. It was my first time riding the Glacial Drumlin Trail from start to end and it was neat to ride those city trails in Milwaukee. I go to Milwaukee all the time, but rarely even see those trails.

“Sitting on a bike seat for 110 miles one day and 88 the next is the most difficult thing about that kind of ride. It gets really hard to sit on a bike that long. You go through the cycle of emotions where I thought, why am I doing this to myself again. But then near the end I started feeling good again. Lake Michigan was a beautiful place to finish. It was a really fun accomplishment.”

Freymiller raised $2,060 on this year’s ride, including a handful of face-to-face donations at local stops in Fennimore and Montfort on Saturday.

“There were so many moving parts and so many people who supported me,” added Freymiller. “Even though it was me doing the riding, 198-mile bike rides don’t happen on their own. It’s amazing to be able to do these rides and raise money for such a good cause. I am amazed by the people in my life, that I was still able to keep the same level of fundraising even during a pandemic when many people are questioning their own economic situations.”

Freymiller also participates in another annual tour each September called The Ride, which starts in Sun Prairie and loops through rural Dane County. The Ride benefits the Carbone Cancer Center at the University of Wisconsin and Freymiller participates each year in honor of her mother Peggy, a breast cancer survivor. This year’s event, schedule for Sept. 27, has also been cancelled due to COVID-19, but Freymiller plans to complete the ride on her own.

“The Ride is very rider friendly with shorter options of 25K (15 miles), 50K (35 miles), 100K (63 miles) and the 100-mile (actually 102 miles) ride,” said Freymiller. “I rode the 102-mile loop on my own with the support of some friends at the end of June and will be riding it again in late September.”

“I feel compelled to continue these rides every year and to continue to raise money because so many people are affected by cancer,” added Freymiller. “So many people support me now that I can’t just quit. I will continue to do this as long as my body lets me. I don’t think people would care that much that I rode across the state if it wasn’t for a good cause.”