Friends of CHRISTUS Santa Rosa Foundation Vice President John Bel, April Fricke, Michele O'Brien, and IWHS Principal Jennifer Salazar. Credit: Bekah McNeel / San Antonio Report

When Incarnate Word High School (IWHS) Athletic Director April Fricke pedaled across the pink, festooned finish line, she completed the latest leg of a journey that began 147 years ago.

In 1869, the Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word traveled the 250 miles from Freeport to San Antonio to establish the first public hospital in the area in the midst of a cholera epidemic. Sr. St. Madeleine Chollet, Sr. St. Pierre Cinquin, and Sr. Agnes Buisson traveled by wagon to found CHRISTUS Santa Rosa Hospital.

They devoted themselves to the sick, elderly, and orphans in the colony, and eventually founded institutes of higher learning, including the University of the Incarnate Word.

April Fricke crosses the finish line of her 250 mile journey at Incarnate Word High School. Bekah McNeel / Rivard Report
April Fricke crosses the finish line of her 250 mile journey at Incarnate Word High School. Credit: Bekah McNeel / San Antonio Report

“This is our legacy here that we (are) trying to continue to uphold,” said IWHS Principal Jennifer Salazar.

Three years ago, Fricke, an avid runner and sometimes cyclist, decided to retrace the Sisters’ journey from Freeport. She initially saw it as a simple homage and a fun adventure. However, when the CHRISTUS Santa Rosa Foundation and others caught wind of her intentions, things began to coalesce into something even more significant.

“It became a huge event,” Salazar said.

The ride became a fundraiser for the Friends of CHRISTUS Santa Rosa Foundation’s mobile mammography unit. This year Fricke and the Sisters of Charity raised $5,000, 100% of which goes to the mobile screening unit. Mammograms cost the unit between $100-200, so $5,000 go a long way.

“Women in poverty, those without insurance will get diagnosed, (and) will have their lives saved,” foundation Vice President John Bel said.

The efforts have already saved at least one life.

Last year the mobile mammography unit was parked outside the high school in honor of the event, and students were encouraged to invite the women in their life to get screened. One student’s mother and grandmother participated, thinking that they were doing a good thing by supporting the school’s efforts. Both women’s screens came back with irregularities. After further tests, the grandmother found out that she had early stage breast cancer, and was able to have the necessary surgery.

The key to beating breast cancer, Bel said, is early detection. Bel, Salazar, and Fricke all expressed their hope that the message will sink in and stick with IWHS students as they mature. They hope it will encourage young women to take their health seriously and be vigilant about preventative care.

Fricke’s ride is also an example of using whatever resources available to give back to the community, Bel added. He hopes the girls will hold on to that example.

This year’s journey began on the morning of Oct. 18, and ended at noon on Oct. 20 in the IWHS parking lot. 

It was a particularly “trying” trip, Fricke said. Strong winds, grueling sun, and generally unfavorable road conditions increased the challenge. During one stretch a simultaneous headwind and crosswind held her to 12 m.p.h. Still, she celebrated being able to spread the message of early detection and awareness along the way.

For women in poverty or without insurance, annual screenings that repeatedly come back normal seem like a luxury. They may forego the procedure, meaning that their cancer could grow past the point of when it is most treatable. The mobile mammography unit brings the screening to them, free of cost and free of all the hurdles associated with a trip to the doctor.

April Fricke cheers along the home stretch of her 250 mile ride to raise money and awareness for breast cancer screening.
April Fricke cheers along the home stretch of her 250 mile ride to raise money and awareness for breast cancer screening. Credit: Bekah McNeel / San Antonio Report

“The mobile mammography unit says, ‘Hope is right here,’” Bel said.

As Fricke rode the rough, traffic-heavy miles, she thought about those women. She tried to imagine the emotional and physical burdens they carry as they go through the diagnosis and treatment process.

“When I was getting tired, I thought about those women,” Fricke said, “I thought, ‘I can at least pedal (for them).’”

Bekah McNeel

Bekah McNeel is a native San Antonian. You can also find her at her blog, FreeBekah.com, on Twitter @BekahMcneel, and on Instagram @wanderbekah.