Wrapping Up the 2016 WAM


62 members of Team Joe’s gathers around three Wish Heroes at the finish line of the Michigan Wish a Mile (WAM) on July 31, 2016.  Team Joe’s raised $112,000 to help make wishes come true.

By Rob Casalou
Regional President and CEO
Saint Joseph Mercy Health System

When that alarm clock goes off at 4:15 a.m. on the third and final day of riding, I am sure I’m not alone of the thought that came to mind… “No way”!

First, that is early on any day but after logging 210  miles of riding over the previous two days, the muscles are a bit more sore and the body needs a little more encouragement to get out of bed.  But we all did get up, put on the last day riding clothes and make our way to breakfast at Dewitt High School.  It is dark, a little cool but as the school starts to come to life and as we all realize this is our last day and the great celebration and accomplishment that awaits us at the end, the blood starts pumping again.

Day three is the shortest ride of the three days at just over 95 miles to the finish line at MIS.  It is also our flattest course so that is welcome as well.  The weather forecast was variable with the famous weather prediction of a 50% chance of storms anywhere.  I joked with many of my teammates that the most secure job in America is a weather forecaster because what other profession can you make a 50% prediction of something and keep your job?!  Well, the 50% chance of no rain was what we experienced and we were grateful for that!

We communicated to our 300-mile riders and our Team Joe’s 50-mile riders who would be riding in the vicinity of MIS on Sunday morning, that we would meet up in the MIS parking lot at 2 p.m. so that we could ride into the MIS as a team and cross the finish line together.  With so many riders of different speeds, many of our 300-mile team left Dewitt right at 6 a.m. and some of our fast Tour de France types left a bit later so that we would all arrive at the same time.

It worked out beautifully as we all gathered at the last break-stop about 10 miles from MIS at the same time and we rode the last 10 miles together to our meeting spot and joined our Team Joe’s 50 milers who were waiting for us.  It was awesome to come together and then I realized just how big our team had grown – 62 cyclists all n one place for the first time.  We spent several minutes celebrating with a lot of hugs, high-fives and just pure joy.

Before I talk about the final mile into MIS and the Heroes Hurrah celebration, I want to quickly back up to a couple highlights of the day.  First, this was a very safe ride over the three days because we are well-protected by our state trooper escorts, medics, firemen and American Red Cross staff in addition to hundreds of volunteers and some very courteous and helpful riders.  Every so often, as you might expect, there is a rider who falls and we had a couple of those on Sunday.  One rider from another team took a fall and to his good fortune, Team Joe’s riders were on the scene before the medics arrived and started to render care.  I still don’t know who from our team came to the rescue as the story was relayed to me but having a team with so many medical professionals is quite comforting!

The lunch stop at the Stockbridge High School is also a highlight on the last day since it is when the staff serve the popular Chinese food and pizza meal.  Now, there is no way yours truly can stomach that meal at that moment so I go with my staple on the ride – peanut butter and jelly.  But you could see many Team Joe’s riders and all WAM riders enjoying the lunch before heading out for the final 47 miles.

Another special highlight was meeting Wish Kid Casey at one of the break-stops.  We meet a lot of Wish Kids and Wish Families on the tour but Casey stood out for me.  He is about 11 years old and is currently getting chemo treatment.  He just got notice this past week that his wish was being granted to go to the Bahamas and swim with the pigs!  Yes, you did read that correctly.  I didn’t know you could do such a thing but that is what his dream is and that is what he will get to do.  He is not well enough to travel right now but, once he gets his medical clearance, he and his family are off to the Bahamas… and the pigs.   His eyes lit up as he told his story and he was overwhelmed by all the riders who came up to shake his hand and congratulate him on his upcoming wish.  This young boy was surrounded by love and he and his Mom could feel it.  This is why we ride.  And the doctors will tell you that when a child like Casey is in treatment and they are told they are getting  a wish, their attitude and demeanor changes dramatically and they are stronger mentally and feel much more positive about their future.  A wish is not just a trip or an experience, it gives hope and strength to these young children and helps them with their treatment.

Back to the end….With our team gathered right outside the MIS track, we rode slowly around the outside of the track to what is known as the “Silent Mile”.  Hundreds of riders ride in memory of loved ones lost too soon and there are stars with names and pictures all along a grassy area that riders stop at before they enter the track and pick up the star of the person they rode for the past three days.  You can hear a pin drop as riders pause or ride by slowly because it is truly a scared part of our journey together.  You can’t help but feel a lump in your throat as you pass this area and it reminds us all how fragile life is and that we must do all we can to help others during our time on this earth.

Watch Team Joe’s cross the finish line at MIS

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After the Silent Mile, our team rode onto the MIS track which is very cool.  The track has a steep embankment so we stay low so not to have our tires slide out from underneath us and we slowly make our way around turns 3 and 4 on the MIS track to the finish line.  As we approached the finish line, the track is lined with thousands of people cheering, singing, taking pictures and videos and celebrating our achievement in riding and making wishes come true.  The feeling is hard to describe but it is a feeling I and our team members will never forget.  After crossing the finish line, we gathered in the infield, took another team pic and just spent time talking and celebrating and already planning next year.  This is the highlight of my summer and my year and my family was there, as were many families of our riders, to greet us with hugs and smiles.


We then made our way to the stage area where we meet our Wish Hero who would place our medals around our neck and thank us for riding.  As I mentioned in my first update, our Wish Hero was Michael R.  Michael had a wish to play catch with Miguel Cabrera last year.  We arrived at the stage to learn that Michael was not well enough to be there with us on Sunday.  We were sad but mostly because of the news he was not feeling well.  In Michael’s place, we had three other wish children there to celebrate and give us our medals and one of them said to us, “I just can’t believe what you all did for us, thank you so much”.   That says it all. After the ceremony, we all headed to get the bags, eat  and head home to showers and beds.

A couple final thoughts….

First, I want to thank all 62 members of Team Joe’s for what they did this past weekend.  What an awesome group of people that included St. Joe’s physicians and colleagues, Probility leaders and staff who were a huge reason our team almost doubled in size this year, to friends and families of our physicians and staff who joined as well as a couple UM colleagues who also joined us.   New friendships were formed and I can see most of this team coming back next year for the 30th Wish-a-Mile that will be extra special celebrating that milestone.

I also had the fortune of crossing the finish line with my daughter, Julie, who rode for the first time.  It is a wonderful opportunity for fathers, mothers, daughters and sons to do this ride together and I am so grateful that my spunky girl wanted to go from WAM volunteer to WAM rider this year.  As we rode by riders all three days, she was always smiling and always giving encouragement to others even though she was feeling the burn in her legs.  I was a lucky Dad and she and I never separated on the road.  Thanks sweetie for making this WAM extra special.

Lastly, if you are reading this and are intrigued by this event and Team Joe’s, please consider joining us.  Just let me know of your interest and I will fill you in on everything you need to know and then you can decide.  I promise you that you will never regret climbing on board.

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Until next year….

Rob Casalou
Regional President and CEO
Saint Joseph Mercy Health System



Team Joe’s Rides Again for Wish Heroes

Ride along with SJMHS President and CEO Rob Casalou and 59 other riders of Team Joe’s as they traverse 300 miles of Michigan countryside in the 2016 Wish a Mile.  Rob and the team will be posting summaries, pics and live video during their three-day journey from July 28-30. Catch the action on this blog and on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Rob’s first entry:

Our travel day up north for the WAM started this morning.  We have 46 riders from Team Joe’s doing the 3-day, 300 mile your and 16 riders from Team Joe’s doing the 50 mile ride on Sunday.

It is extra special for me having my daughter Julie riding with me this year. Also, we have many new riders on Team Joe’s, including several from Probility that are in the large group shot. The other pics show the amount of organization needed to move 850 riders from MIS to Traverse City!

WAMtour15 – The Final Stretch

7:50 AM – Team Joe’s got a quick jump on the route and rolled into Mile 25 break stop in no time. Here some of the gang is enjoying a relaxing moment as we refuel. Looking forward to our lunch stop today put on by St. Joseph Mercy Chelsea Hospital at Stockbridge High School!
 Team Joe’s fueling up before starting our 3rd and final day. Looking froward to a great day and finish at MIS. Wheels on the road in 15 minutes.

  Continue reading “WAMtour15 – The Final Stretch”

Day 2 Recap: Let’s Ride

  Like Friday, this morning started nicely with a nice breakfast with the team (Ferris State has the most awesome food service) and then we hit the road promptly at 6:20 a.m. with cool temps and mild winds.

 My how that changed as the day moved on! It wasn’t long before Team Joe’s was facing some headwinds and heat. We hit our lunch stop at 9:30 a.m. (yes, but believe me we were hungry) and then went after the much tougher second half of the ride. For me, things were fine until the last 10 miles of our 109 mile day largely because I didn’t fuel up properly during the ride. Don’t tell Lisa McDowell but I chugged down some major Pepsi on this trip in order to get a quick sugar hit. Of course, our new Wellness Coordinator, Paige, reminded me that better nutrition was available.
Continue reading “Day 2 Recap: Let’s Ride”

 WAMtour15 – Behind the Handlebars Again

Team Joe’s was up and on the road early this morning starting with a hearty breakfast and then wheels on the road by 6:20 a.m. Nice cool morning and no rain – yet! Now at the Mile 14 break stop and feeling great. Lee Benjamin decides that his bike can dual as a chair! 😄

Continue reading ” WAMtour15 – Behind the Handlebars Again”

WAM15 – Team Joe’s Cruises Through First 100 Miles

What a spectacular day. You could not have ordered better weather for our 6:20 a.m. start out of Traverse City this morning. The temps were mild, the breeze was gentle and our team was geeked. Everyone was anxious to get going so we took off early.

And for the first half of the ride heading into our 9:10 a.m. lunch, we cruised. We have many strong riders who kept the pace brisk. 

Now, the second half of the ride was a bit different. The temps came up into the mid-80’s, the sun was shining strong the winds picked up several MPH. Said another way….it was a much tougher second half.

The first day is our day of hills and they can, with the help of the heat, wear us out and they did! As we rolled into Big Rapids in the early afternoon, most of our team scattered to get bags and shuttles, get to the hotels, take a shower and even nap before dinner. For the day, we rode almost exactly 100 miles with over 3,000 ft of climbing….not bad.
Continue reading “WAM15 – Team Joe’s Cruises Through First 100 Miles”

WAM2015 – Headwinds, Beet Juice and the Hill from Hell

Team Joe’s hit the road at 6:20am this morning with the sun rising behind us in the group shot.  Now at mile 25 break stop and everyone is feeling great. Perfect morning. On we go!!

Continue reading “WAM2015 – Headwinds, Beet Juice and the Hill from Hell”

Team Joe’s Preps for 2015 Wish-a-Mile

IMG_0008On July 23, Team Joe’s traveled north by bus to the starting line of the Wish-a-Mile 300 benefiting the Wish Kids of the Make a Wish Foundation. Throughout the three-day ride, CEO Rob Casalou and 18 Team Joe’s cyclists will post updates, photos and stories to this blog. On Sunday, they will be joined by 19 additional 50-mile riders from Saint Joseph Mercy Health System.

Join their ride! Words of encouragement will help them push through the pain and exhaustion of the ride.  Post your thoughts here and on our Facebook and Twitter pages. 

Here is the first post:

We didn’t push the pedals today but it was a great day just the same as Team Joe’s spent the day en route from the MIS Speedway to Traverse City in preparation for the start of the Wish-A-Mile (WAM) 2015 on Friday.  The air was full of energy and excitement as over 800 riders, including 19 from Team Joe’s, arrived in the early morning at MIS Speedway to check-in and load bikes and bags on buses and head north.

This year, we have 8 new riders on Team Joe’s doing the 3-day, 300 mile ride and and equal number of new riders on the WAM 50 on Sunday.  Our team is growing!   After arriving at the East Traverse Middle School at 3 p.m., we retrieved our bikes and bags and set up for the evening.  It is an IMG_0006amazing scene to see 800 bikes lining fences and fields around the middle school.  Some riders pitch tents, some throw sleeping bags on the gym and hallway floors but most take a shuttle to one of several area hotels.  Once organized, we returned to the school for dinner, an ice cream social and many fun activities.  It is a time to relax and enjoy new friends who we will become very close to over the next 3 days.  We were also blessed to have three of our wish kids with us during dinner.   Once you meet these kids and their families, you truly understand why we do this ride….it is for them.

IMG_0020After the festivities, it was back to our hotels to get ready for a very early morning.  Our plan is to get over to the school for breakfast at 5:30 a.m. and have wheels on the road by 6:15 a.m.  Weather looks great for tomorrow.  We hope to get most of the ride behind us before it gets hot in the afternoon.  The only problem is 100 miles hills and valleys, a projected head wind and 3,000+ feet of climbing.  No problem! 🙂

Good night,


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Thank you, riders!

We at Saint Joseph Mercy Health System are proud of the cyclists of Team Joe’s who completed the Wish-a-Mile challenge.  This year’s riders were –

Rosalie Tocco-Bradley, MD
Alex Bradley
Lee Benjamin, MD
Rob Casalou
Ralph Dillier
Nick Graham
Bill Holmes
Ed Jones
Dave McNeil
Sheila Marcus, MD
Tim Mervak, MD
Tom Mihalski
Russ Olmsted
Mike Prisby
Jenny Cotton Pruitt (WAM 50)
Jon Ricard
Scott Sapita
David Steinberg, MD
Jodi Talbott
Rob Urbanowicz
Jenny Mary Wehrly (WAM 50)


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