Finding Strength Through Bicycling

A father and daughter’s two-wheeled story about living with Leukemia.

cycling with cancer

Rachel and Chris Kinson, photo by Christopher Prevost.

In the spring of 2015, we had the privilege of documenting the stories of those who live and bike in Arlington, VA, the city across the Potomac from Washington, DC, in a film series for the Arlington Department of Transportation. Through the casting process, we were introduced to two remarkable people whose story we knew had to be shared.

Chris and Rachael Kinson are a father and daughter with their own story of recovery. Rachael’s parents are separated so Chris makes quality time with Rachael a priority over quantity, with weekends spent doing many of her favorite things. From cooking together, to playing video games, and riding bicycles, he makes the most of every moment. However, four years ago, cherishing that time took on a deeper meaning.

In 2012, Rachael was diagnosed with Leukemia, news that would rock the foundation of any parent. It was young Rachael’s optimism that would become the basis for how they would tackle this large road bump.

Chris remembers the appreciation he developed for his daughter’s maturity through the process. “For her to take on as much as she was taking on, without showing any signs of exhaustion or sadness, it became an even bigger role for me to keep a strong bond.”

Maintaining that connection was, in fact, the reason they starting riding bikes. During the chemotherapy, the doctors recommended Rachael take up an activity to keep her from growing despondent. Finding an activity that would excite a six year old, while not compromising her already diminished immune system, was a challenge.

“Biking for us was a no-brainer because it involved just the two of us,” explains Chris. Together, they set out to find bikes and start riding. Not being very connected to the bike culture in Arlington prior to this, Chris was happy to find how welcoming the community was. Especially when it came to the first step of finding the perfect bike for Rachael.

When they entered The Old Bike Shop, one of Arlington’s long-standing community bike shops, the owner welcomed them. Instead of being nervous about approaching the young girl with no hair and a facemask, he showed genuine interest in their story, listening to Rachael’s needs, and finding a solution that would make both father and daughter happy.

Cycling with her father is now one of Rachael’s preferred weekend activities and often involves a trip to one of their favorite parks. The bond they built riding bikes throughout her treatment became one of their greatest strengths. As Chris recalls, “We became this team that just shrugged the entire thing off.”

When we met Rachael, there were no signs, physically or emotionally, that she was in remission from Leukemia. She was a bright, happy, cheeky, nine year old girl – much like our own daughter. We were in awe of the joy both Chris and Rachael exuded and the incredible bond the two shared.

One of Chris’ final reflections on the experience best described our own feelings after meeting these two wonderful people. “When I saw that she was able to overcome this, it made everything accomplishable. It’s changed my perspective on everything.”

Chris and Melissa Bruntlett are the co-founders of Modacity, a multi-service communications and marketing firm focused on inspiring healthier, happier, simpler forms of urban mobility through words, photography and film. @modacitylife

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