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Biking through 50 states, alum tests physical limits

by Karen Singer - September 4, 2007

During the recent Steeple Chase Bike Tour through Northeastern Connecticut, Gary Gianetti was not among the leaders of the pack.

It didn’t matter. The 29-year-old UConn alum was pedaling to make a point.

The Aug. 18 ride from Willimantic marked the beginning of Gianetti’s attempt to cycle 100 miles a day in every state for 50 consecutive days.

The last ride, in Hawaii, is slated for Oct. 6.

Along the way, Gianetti hopes to raise $100,000 for family cancer support and to educate people about cancer prevention.

University of Connecticut researchers are monitoring Gianetti’s progress, and will be analyzing his weight, the amount of calories he consumes, and other physiological data, as well as “qualitative” measures such as how he has slept and how he feels when he wakes up, according to kinesiology professor Linda Pescatello, his former adviser.

“It will be interesting to see how Gary does with build-up of fatigue over time, and how it’s going to influence his performance,” she says.

“He’s a pretty determined man, but this is going to be a tough thing to complete. He’s truly testing the limits of what a person is capable of doing.”

Assistant kinesiology professor Laura Burton is also involved in the qualitative portion of the research.

Data about Gianetti’s speed, distance, altitude, cadence, and power also are being collected by a gadget attached to his bike wheel.

Gianetti says he’s eating about 9,000 calories a day, consuming power bars, a lot of fats (nuts and olive oil), carbohydrates (pasta, pancakes, oatmeal cookies), “tons” of vegetables (especially broccoli and spinach), and bananas, kiwis and other fruit.”

During his first 100-mile ride starting from Willimantic, Pescatello and kinesiology professor Larry Armstrong were among the faculty and former students cycling with him.

Cancer prevention is a cause close to Gianetti’s heart. In 2002, he lost his mother, Francine, who smoked, to lung cancer.

The illness, he says, brought his family together.

A former smoker turned bodybuilder and marathon runner, Gianetti currently lives in Steamboat Springs, Colo., where he’s a personal trainer and ski- and snowboard instructor.

Gianetti grew up biking, running, and playing football in Trumbull, then went to UConn, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in nutritional sciences and exercise physiology and a master’s in health promotion.

Inspired by ultra marathoners, he came up with the idea for his biking challenge last year, while running the United Technologies Greater Hartford Marathon and reflecting how hard it was on his knees and joints.

Since then, he has developed a team of UConn alums who helped plan his journey with the help of friends, family, and sponsors, and cycling 450 to 500 miles a week on mountainous Colorado roads.

In some states he is participating in scheduled rides, such as the one in Willimantic. In others, he’ll follow the course of bike races or rides.

He has found other mapped-out routes in states that have no cycling events.

As he travels, Gianetti is meeting – and cycling – with cancer survivors and families who’ve lost loved ones to cancer. He plans to donate at least $5,000 to the Lance Armstrong Foundation; the rest of the money he raises will go to local family cancer programs.

“Part of my purpose is to educate people about cancer prevention,” Gianetti says.

“This is about educating, empowering, and engaging communities.”

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