Mortonite will ride 442 miles in Iowa tour

Nathan Domenighini
Mortonite Dwaine Relph, above, will ride the seven-day bike tour called RAGBRAI next week in Iowa. Relph, who began riding his bike five years ago, will also raise money for the Susan G. Komen for the Cure foundation in honor of his mother, Janice, who died of breast cancer in 2005.

Dwaine Relph rides his bike to and from work about three days a week.

The Mortonite, clad in biking attire, makes his way from his home in Morton to his job at Caterpillar Inc. in Peoria.

He travels the Illinois River Trail route, cycling at about 20 miles per hour.

“I don’t get home until about 30 minutes later than my wife wants me home,” Relph said.

Relph’s riding career did not start until about five years ago when a friend recommended he buy himself a bike.

Since then, what started as a physical way to pass time has quickly become a passion for Relph, as well as a way to dedicate his time in honor of his mother, Janice Relph, who died of breast cancer in 2005.

Relph’s mother, was a registered nurse who spent much of her career caring for patients in Southern Iowa. Even when cancer was taking its toll on her own health, she worked as a visiting nurse, calling on homebound patients. 

Relph remembers an example of her humility and kindness — she removed her own wig to enter the home of a patient also undergoing chemotherapy who was self-conscious about her hair loss. She was honored posthumously as one of the 100 Great Iowa Nurses for 2006, an award that recognized her for making a meaningful and lasting contribution to humanity and the nursing profession, Relph said.

“This is kind of my own way of dealing with the loss of my mom,” he said.

Janice was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1999. And, after initial treatments, the cancer was in remission and practically disappeared. For six years, she was going strong — the cancer was gone.

Typically, Relph said, doctor’s will assume the cancer will not appear again if it has been undetected for more than six years. But, six years later, the cancer returned and spread quicker than ever.

“For six years, she was clear,” he said. “It just came back at the tail end of that period.”

Four years later, Relph continues to ride his bike. He said he has traveled a total of 10,000 miles on that same bike — the one he has owned since he began the hobby.

“I like getting out on the road and challenging myself,” Relph said. “I am able to forget about everything else in the world.

“It is stress release when I go home from work,” he added.

Relph will travel to his home state, Iowa, Saturday to ride in the seven-day state biking tour  called RAGBRAI — Des Moines Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa.

The event began when a columnist from the Iowa newspaper began to ride his bike throughout Iowa to write about his experiences.

What started as a journalistic experience turned into an annual event, with thousands of riders, amateur and professional, competing each year.

Relph moved from Cabria, Iowa, a town of about 70 people located 65 miles south of Des Moines, to Morton to work at Caterpillar Inc. in 1981. The Iowa man who was raised on a farm learned to ride on a bike his father bought for $5. It came without training wheels.

For the past year, Relph has been conditioning himself. He has never cycled competitively. RAGBRAI’s 442-mile route will require him to be in shape. So, he has prepared, with gusto.

“This has been my most aggressive year in riding,” he said. “I really wanted to ride RAGBRAI. It’s a neat ride and it’s my heritage.”

It is not a competitive ride for him, however. More, it is a way to prove to himself that he can do it.

“I’ve intentionally not gotten into racing,” he said. “I don’t want to turn this into a competitive event.

“I’m not convinced I am good enough to compete at that level,” he added.

Relph joined a seven-member team called “Team Turkey,” a name which was the result of a member’s previous run-in with a turkey, which attacked the rider during a RAGBRAI tour.

The shortest day during the tour is 45 miles. The longest will extend 100 miles, Relph said.

It will be a challenge, he added, but it is one he wants to complete for his own conscience.

“I want to finish it and finish it well,” he said. “It’s something you can document in the scrapbook and tell the grandkids.”

Relph said he wants to raise $1,000 for the Susan G. Komen for the Cure foundation. To contribute, visit www.info-komen.org/goto/RAGBRAI, make a check payable to Komen for the Cure and mail it to Komen for the Cure, c/o Dwaine Relph, 22316 Oak Lane, Morton, IL 61550-9229. To contact Relph, call 266-5983.