Mike Libenson is “excited, nervous, and a little scared” to bike ride 2,400 miles with three of his friends in March.

Libenson and other members of the charity organization SammyRides will be making the trek from Sun City to Sun City Center, Fla., in March in the name of pediatric cancer research.

“It’s daunting. It’s huge,” Libenson said. “2,400 miles is beginning to take on some significance besides just a number.”

Libenson founded the organization after his granddaughter Sammy was diagnosed with bone cancer at age 7; she died two years later in 2008. SammyRides aims to raise awareness and money for other families of children diagnosed with cancer.

Libenson will arrive in Sun City at the end of this month, and the whole group will depart from Sundial Recreation Center on March 2 at 8:30 a.m. for the beginning of their journey.

“We’re very, very excited,” Libenson said, adding that another one of the goals is to prove that seniors can still be active. “We’re not youngsters, so we realize what we’re doing.”

While the ride itself is a momentous undertaking, the most important aspect to Libenson and his fellow riders — whose average age is 70 — is getting the word out about their organization and the importance of pediatric cancer and its effect on families.

Libenson and other riders Mike Brown, Adolph  Lex and John Bear will be riding between 30 and 80 miles a day, but Libenson’s biggest concern is getting through mountainous areas in Arizona, New Mexico and Texas. Right now, the group is riding 40 to 50 miles a day as training.

Libenson met with the Sun City Home Owners Association board of directors in November to ask for help planning the beginning of the ride; the board formed an ad hoc committee headed by former director Ben Roloff, who Libenson said has been very helpful.

Roloff and the ad hoc committee have planned a specific route for the first day of the ride after a send-off event at Sundial. He also has booked the SammyRides group to meet with various Sun City clubs and helped with fund-raising.

“This is all coming together just great,” Roloff said. “Things are working out quite nicely, I think.”

The group will make stops at Phoenix Children’s Hospital and Arizona State University while in Arizona, but Phoenix is the biggest metropolitan area on the route. They will be stopping in small cities and towns along the way to have potluck dinners at local churches to raise money for a local family with a child suffering from pediatric cancer.

Libenson and Roloff hope other Sun City residents will join the ride the first day, for whatever distance they can.

SammyRides already has sponsors, including the Sun City 50th Anniversary Committee, AARP and California-based nonprofit Team Will, which will cover expenses incurred by the group on the trip, so any donations made will go to pediatric cancer research.

The SammyRides group will arrive in Sun City Center, Fla., outside Tampa, in early May just in time for the beginning of their own 50th Anniversary celebrations.

“It’s a real nice tie between the two communities,” Roloff said.

Upcoming events, information

• On March 1, the NextGen Club will host a meet-and-greet with the four bikers from Florida. The event starts at 7 p.m. and will be at the new Fairway Recreation Center in the Arizona Room. There will be light snacks and beverages served.

• March 2 will be the official send-off for the bikers from the mall area of Sundial Recreation Center. Coffee and rolls will be available beginning at 7:30 a.m. with the riders set to start their 2,400-mile journey at 8:30 a.m. Everyone is invited to ride along the initial route out of Sun City on bikes or in golf cars at the back of the pack. 

• Donations will be collected for pediatric cancer/awareness education at every event. Donation checks can also be sent to SammyRides, P.O. Box 5923, Sun City Center, FL 33571, or visit www.sammyrides.com and make contributions via a credit card.

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