If you drove north or south on Hwy. 169 to Garrison from Onamia earlier this summer, or from Onamia to Hillman, or anywhere around the lake, you may have seen a smiling couple on a tandem bike. Or you may have seen a guy riding in pouring rain, stifling heat, on chilly mornings, and humid evenings.

That would be the MC Warriors Team, or as people at Mille Lacs Health System know them, Arden and Patti.

Doctors Arden Virnig and Patti Hook are a married physician couple who lost their lovely daughter, Mary Catherine, to neuroblastoma in 2010. For the last five years, Arden has been logging miles every summer in The Great Cycle Challenge. He’s logged 5,000 miles since he began, and this summer, Patti joined the ride team to add her own pedaling to the goal. Together they often will hop on their tandem bike to log some miles as well.

Doctors Virnig and Hook ride to raise funds through the challenge to help kids and support the Children’s Cancer Research Fund in order to allow the fund to continue their work to develop lifesaving treatments and find a cure for childhood cancer.

Arden said on his blog (on the site greatcyclechallenge.com), “Right now, cancer is the biggest killer of children from disease in the U.S. Over 15,700 children are diagnosed every year, and sadly, 38 of those die from cancer every week.”

This summer, Arden’s longest work commute was to the MLHS Garrison clinic, usually a 43-mile round trip by the end of the day. He would sometimes ride from the hospital in Onamia or from his home, and it didn’t matter what kind of weather hit him, he just kept pedaling on. Whether dripping puddles on the floor after a particularly nasty ride in a storm, fixing a flat with the help of Patti, or riding with his youngest son, Sam (a gift for Father’s Day), he challenged himself to cycle for a cure every chance he could get.

“Also, each year I rode with a theme,” he said. “A teddy bear made from Mary Catherine’s first cattle show shirt, a Warrior stick, and a tandem bike.”

Dr. Patti Hook is no slouch on the bike, either. She rode over 300 miles this summer and raised over $5,000.

“I joined Arden to help him out so he wouldn’t have to ride as many miles this year, as he had his knee replaced seven months ago,” Patti said. “But he was determined to ride 1,135 miles so he could achieve his goal of riding 5,000 miles in five Junes to support Children’s Cancer Research. We are both committed to this foundation because it supports researchers, often young graduates, with novel ideas to treat childhood cancers like the neuroblastoma that took our daughter Mary Catherine’s life.” Patti added that breakthroughs in children’s cancer treatments translate into new approaches to adult cancers, too.

Both she and Arden were excited to have ridden along the new Lake Mille Lacs Scenic Byway. In one blog post, Patti noted, “89 degrees + 100 miles the past 2 days = Sunburn. Great sunny days to be riding! What I like the most about bicycling is seeing the Greater Mille Lacs Lake community we love up close, on roads less traveled.”

She posted a photo of the back of husband Arden’s head and said, “When one is the stoker on a tandem, this is the view you see the most. As the saying goes, ‘If you’re not the lead dog, the scenery never changes!’”

The couple expressed their extreme gratitude to all the donations made by friends, family, coworkers, and strangers who just wanted to help. “We have to thank everyone for their generous spirits,” Patti said. “Their support will change little lives.”

The GCC website says the collective miles ridden by all pedalers would lap the circumference of the earth 182 times. The oldest rider was an 85 “years young” woman, and the youngest a five year-old girl. And riders in Minnesota have raised the highest number of donations in the country.

Doctors Arden Virnig and Patti Hook are proud to have turned their spokes with other riders around the world to help raise over 24 million dollars for children’s cancer research. “A child shouldn’t have to look forward to their Make-a-Wish trip,” Arden said. “Instead, they should be looking forward to their life without cancer. Kids should be living life, not fighting for it.”

Arden’s Ride Stats

• No. of rides: 26

• Longest ride: 71 mi

Fundraising Stats

• No. of sponsors: 83

• National ranking: 9th

• State ranking (Minn.): 2nd

• Team ranking: 1st

• Has raised over $12,000 this summer, with an overall total of over $70,000

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