North Allegheny girls basketball coach Stefko rides to benefit cancer research

Thursday, August 10, 2017 | 11:00 PM

Spencer Stefko was enjoying his vacation in Stone Harbor, N.J., when word got out to him and spurred him to action.

Management and waiters at North Park Lounge in McCandless had put a jar out to collect money to help fund his Pelotonia bike ride. They adorned a label to the front, describing how Stefko, who coaches the North Allegheny girls basketball team, was raising money to honor his father by doing a 180-mile trek in Columbus, Ohio, Aug. 5-6 and left it out for donations.

That motivated Stefko to work the phones. He started making phone calls to everyone he knew, pestering them to donate.

The next day, he saw $1,200 come in. While the jar raised somewhere around $70-150, the gesture ended up leading to much more. Stefko raised $9,200 for cancer research, crushing his original benchmark.

“Initially, my goal was $6,000,” Stefko said. “A couple things happened through fundraising. One thing led to another and you get motivation and are blessed with good people around you. I had 102 people donate. I didn't know I knew 102 people. Turns out I do.”

Stefko did 106.9 miles Saturday in 6 hours, 49 minutes and 59 seconds. Sunday, he knocked out the final 80 miles in 5:23.59.

The terrain was beautiful, but not easy.

“Everyone thinks Ohio is flat,” Stefko said. “It wasn't flat. We climbed over a mile in the two days.”

To prepare, Stefko tried to get 1,000 miles in. With all the different rails-to-trails around Pittsburgh, it wasn't difficult to find places to train. Proximity helped play a role.

“I was able to hit that goal right before the ride,” said Stefko about biking 1,000 miles. “I started in June and ramped up before the event. I live near North Park, so I went there when I didn't have time to drive to the Panhandle or Greater Allegheny Passage.”

This is Stefko's third year participating in the event. He started soon after his 71-year-old father, Dan Stefko, died of leukemia in 2014.

Dan died before Spencer's first playoff game as coach at Seton-La Salle, a 61-33 win over West Shamokin on Feb. 18, 2014. Stefko ended up guiding the Rebels to the WPIAL and PIAA Class AA crowns.

Pelotonia, which was founded in 2008, was the perfect way for Stefko to honor his dad's memory. According to the event's website, $15,449,362 was raised as of Aug. 8 among 8,022 riders and 281 pelotons, which is a group of five riders or more.

The fundraising goes until Oct. 6.

“Like a lot of these things, people get started on them to deal with their own personal grief,” Stefko said. “It turned into a fundraising positive for someone in the future.”

Josh Rizzo is a freelance writer.


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