Retired Exeter educator rides to fight cancer

Kirk Clague on bicycle near Highway 65 in Exeter, Ca.(Rigo Moran)

Kirk Clague, Exeter High School’s former band teacher, fundraises for a cycling event that puts the pedal towards combating child cancer

TULARE COUNTY – Cyclists around the country have teamed up to raise money for the Children’s Cancer Research Fund organization (CCRF) during the month of September. These funds, which have reached well into the millions in previous years, will go towards research for better treatments and potential cures for early childhood cancer.

The donations are gathered by the participating cyclists, who essentially promote awareness of the event as they ride however many miles they pledge, which can range anywhere from 10 miles to 500 depending on the rider and their goals.

Over 22,231 people have joined the Great Cycle Challenge this year, making it one of America’s biggest cycling events after only eight years of action. Kirk Clague, a recently retired Exeter High School band teacher with a passion for riding bikes and fighting cancer, is one of these people, and will be participating for the sixth time.

“They (the CCRF) send riders stories to help motivate us; I think the last one was (about) a six year old who’d had 20 surgeries and spent almost her entire life in the hospital,” Clague said. “You look at that and go, ‘what does it matter if I ride my legs off?’”

Clague is currently set to ride 300 miles over the course of September, with hopes of generating $2,500 that will directly go towards the CCRF. So far he has raised $586, which will automatically double sometime during the middle of the month.

“During the middle of the month, they (the CCRF) do a doubling thing, where they find a corporate donor who will go dollar for dollar for what people have given,” he said. “So that’s a good (time) for people to contribute.”

While the exact day won’t be announced to encourage donations throughout the month, anyone wanting to donate should do it sooner rather than later. Another way to help raise money is by participating in the event itself, which Clague says is fairly simple to do.

“If you just go to the great cycle challenge — just do a web search for it — they make it super easy right there on the site,” he said. “They also have a spin bike challenge for those who don’t like to ride out on the road.”

To sign up for the event, visit the Cycle Challenge site. Donations can be made by going to Clague’s page on the website, where you can find more information about his previous history with the event.

Retired but not tired

Kirk Clague first got introduced to the Great Cycle Challenge by one of his students a few years back. As he’s always loved to ride bikes, and lost his mother to cancer, Clague knew the event was something he wanted to participate in.

Born and raised out by the coast, Clague spent much of his childhood surfing and participating in other endurance sports. When he was just a kid, he began to participate in triathlons, where he was able to exert his love of swimming, running and biking.

While he always had a greater love for running, Clague made the move to biking as he came into his age. Throughout the years he picked up other hobbies such as fly fishing, which he does up near his home in Three Rivers.

“I just ride around here (Three Rivers) and do a lot of climbing and other activities… I just love to be outside,” Clague said.

After retiring from his job as a band teacher at Exeter High School last year, Clague has also taken up the hobby of composing music, something he didn’t have time for during his years as a teacher.

“I’m composing music now, and that’s been fun,” he said. “It’s been a learning experience, that’s for sure. I never had time to do it (before).”

Clague was first introduced to the area after he visited his brother on his honeymoon. He and his wife Laura started looking for property out in Tulare after they grew tired of overpaying for rent by the coast. It wasn’t long before they found a listing in the Santa Barbara News Press for a home on three acres that was cheaper than their “postage stamp apartment.”

By this point, Clague had also grown tired of the instability of performing music — which he had done prior to the move —  so he began to apply to every school within a 50 mile radius of his new home. To his bemusement, he was hired on as a band teacher.

“It’s just kind of interesting how I was just kind of led back to being a music teacher when that’s kind of what I was trying to get away from — away from the music scene,” he said. “That (position) was all I could find, so I guess it’s God’s will.”

Now, nearly 35 years later, Clague has retired from the divinely chosen job, but that doesn’t mean he’s slowed down. He plans to participate in the Great Cycle Challenge for as long as his body will allow him, as well as engage in the activities he’s always loved.

“Exercising is how I stay happy,” he said. “Physically it’s great but the psychological payoff is the benefit.”

To learn more about the former band teacher turned cancer research fundraiser, interested readers can check out The Sun-Gazette’s past articles about him, which dive more into his background and career as an educator

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