Girl’s battle inspires grandfather's Courage Classic ride

Heather Schichtel, the mother of 4-year-old Samantha, leads the 51 members Summits for Samantha team as they cross the finish line in the 2012 Courage Classic. Courtesy
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Much like his bicycle rides through the mountains, Jim Bishop has faced the challenge of life’s peaks and valleys.

The late 2000s were an especially emotional time for the longtime Highlands Ranch resident. His 6-month-old granddaughter, Samantha, began having seizures in January 2007 and the family was given only a generic diagnosis of a “mitochondrial disorder.” The illness caused a multitude of health problems, including mental and physical delays, difficulty swallowing and susceptibility to infections. As Bishop puts it, Samantha spent half of her life at The Children’s Hospital.

The years progressed and as Bishop learned more about his granddaughter’s condition, he recognized its relatively unknown prevalence. Roughly one in 3,500 children will be diagnosed with a mitochondrial disorder before the age of 10. But when other health issues associated with mitochondria - which generate much of a cell's chemical energy supply – are taken into account, Bishop believes the number is closer to one in 1,500.

His research, combined with a shocking lack of available treatment centers and specialists in western states, was the catalyst for the creation of Summits for Samantha, a 51-member cycling group that raises money via the Children’s Hospital’s annual Courage Classic event. The money pays for “things that would normally not be purchased by a hospital,” Bishop said.

Following his first ride in the Courage Classic in 2009, the 56-year-old made a plan to take Samantha on a portion of the 157-mile, three-day trek through Colorado’s mountains the following year. However, she died six days before the start of the 2010 event.

“She never got a chance to get on a bike, but she rides with us every time,” Bishop says.

Since her passing, Summits for Samantha has raised more than $100,000, including a whopping $82,000 last year. Any team that raises more than $50,000 has the ability to direct where the money goes and the team, led by Samantha’s mother, Heather Schichtel, asked The Children’s Hospital to purchase an Oxygraph 2000 High-Resolution Respirometry machine for its mitochondrial clinic.

The machine reduces the amount of tissue needed to analyze oxygen saturation and is one of only a few in the U.S. Oxygen saturation analysis is crucial in determining which cells are adversely affected by the disorder. After the machine came in, Bishop and Schichtel got word that the machine would be named Samantha’s Analyzing Machine, or S.A.M.

Fundraising is not the only motivating factor for Bishop, who began taking long cycling excursions in 1974. In honor of Samantha and her memory, Bishop rides tandem each year with a Children’s Hospital patient.

“When the kids finish, it’s an experience that they will never forget and that anyone who’s around won’t forget,” he said.

Bishop also takes along another rider: “Courage” the stuffed lion. He was Samantha’s favorite toy, and he is affixed to the handle bars for every race.

Summits for Samantha has a goal of raising $100,000 from this year’s Courage Classic. To make a donation, visit http://www.couragetours.com/2013/team/sfs.