Nicole Turner

Before she found herself finishing her senior year of college at home, Nicole Turner lived in Washington, D.C., attending American University.

“This will be the biggest physical and mental challenge I will have ever participated in,” said Nicole Turner last month about her plan to bike over 4,000-miles across the U.S. this summer.

The epic ride, which would have happened after her college graduation, was part of a 4K for Cancer fundraiser by Baltimore, Md., nonprofit Ulman Foundation. The agency supports teens and young adults impacted by cancer.

These days, Turner, a 22-year-old, of South Burlington, is reevaluating her plans, including this summer’s 70-day bike ride which was cancelled due to COVID-19. Though disappointing for both participants and organizers, cancellation was a must – the itinerary had included hospital visits and community dinners along the way.

Aside from her training regimen, Turner had been working steadily to raising money for the foundation. Participants were required to raise a minimum of $4,500, but Turner set her initial goal for $6,000.

“I have the privilege of being in good health and would have been riding for those unable to,” said Turner, who has seen many loved ones fight cancer, including a close neighbor she lost to pancreatic cancer, her grandmother who survived breast cancer and her high school principal, a two-time survivor of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

Patrick Burke is that aforementioned principal. The school community rallied around Burke during his cancer treatment in 2014, including a “Bald for Burke” campaign. A group of seniors filmed an uplifting video message where the entire school, students and staff, cheered on their principal to Pharrell William’s blockbuster song “Happy.”

It made the local news, went viral and currently has more than 18,000 views on YouTube.

“I was a junior when Mr. Burke announced he was diagnosed,” Turner said. “His attitude towards the student body was consistency uplifting, even in an extremely difficult time. It was incredible to see everyone at SBHS come together to support him. Participating in the school-wide ‘Happy’ production was something I won’t forget. Mr. Burke, along with many others were definitely an inspiration for my ride.”

Having almost met her fundraising goal at the end of February, Turner set her sights higher, hoping to raise another $2,000-4,000.

“Before the pandemic broke out, I planned to reach out to local businesses, both in D.C. and in Vermont. However, given the current circumstances, I don’t feel comfortable reaching out to them during this time. I will continue to spread Ulman’s message throughout my community but want to be mindful of the situation we are all in,” said Turner.

Completing her senior year on the American University campus in Washington D.C. is another thing Turner will miss.

Currently studying from home, the soon-to-be graduate was in the middle of two semester-long projects when on-campus instruction ceased.

“Finishing up the semester online has taken a lot of adjustment. I typically pride myself in organization and staying on top of assignments, however, being back home has made it more difficult to stay on task with assignments,” she said. The new-found flexibility has given her more time for dog walks and baking – maintaining balance has been vital, though.

Her college graduation has been cancelled. American University plans a “Virtual Commencement” on May 9, and graduates can return for a ceremony in December.

Turner said it was too early to know whether she will attend, though.

“Though I wouldn’t wish anyone’s time in college to end the way mine did, it has shifted my mindset to not take anything for granted,” she said. “To all my peers who may be experiencing this with me, know that it is okay to grieve this experience. If there is one thing, we all learned at college, it is to accept and embrace new situations. We will forever be the class that graduated amidst a global pandemic and, together, we will have this bond forever.”

Meanwhile, the 4K for Cancer event has gone virtual. According to Parker Gray of the Ulman Foundation, the event has raised more than $460,000.

The plan is for participants to still complete 4,000 miles this summer over the course of 70 days. For Turner, she is unsure what her summer plans are at this point, a common feeling for many during this crisis.

“Thanks to every single person that donated to my ride. Together, we have raised $6,000 and I am beyond proud of this effort.” remarked Turner.

Like many her age, Turner is about to begin a new stage of her life. In May, she will have earned a degree in public health with a minor in sustainability.

“I have been thinking a lot lately about how this is the first major life disruption that myself and many of my peers have experienced,” Turner said. “Many of us were quite young when 9/11 happened which was a major event in history that changed life as we knew it. As a student studying public health, I am really intrigued to see how this pandemic is going to impact our future - whether that be our healthcare system, workforce or general connectivity to one another.”

Seeing the community come together, she said, makes her proud to call South Burlington home.

To donate to Nicole Turner’s fundraising site, visit bit.ly/3fpzeNB.

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