24 Hours of Booty celebrates 20 years of raising money for local cancer programs.
by Michelle Boudin • photographs by Kelsie Elizabeth Photography
$24 million raised for cancer research
25,000 riders since 2002
1,300 cancer survivor participants
The numbers are impressive as 24 Hours of Booty celebrates 20 years, but it all started thanks to a father-son bike ride along the Blue Ridge Parkway in 2001. “We did it for five days, and it was awesome. That next year I was on the booty loop trying to figure out how to top it, and I was thinking no one had ridden the booty loop for 24 hours,” explains Spencer Lueders, the founder of 24HOB and the 24 Foundation that runs it.
The annual bike ride is held every July in the heart of Myers Park as hundreds of riders take over Queens Road West. Each team tries to make sure to have a representative out on the 2.9-mile loop at all times for 24 hours straight. Walkers can participate on the sidewalk alongside the loop. The money raised stays in Charlotte, helping fund dozens of programs that impact cancer patients directly.
The first ride was in November 2002. There were no road closures, no cheering crowds, no hoopla of any kind.
“I just showed up and started riding and really only stopped to eat or put more clothes on because it was so cold,” Lueders says. His dad came out to support him, along with some friends. But other than that, the 50-year-old admits, there wasn’t much of a plan.
“I had been reading cancer stats and was trying to figure out what I could do. And I was passionate about riding bikes. That first time I was trying to ride, eat, drink … and the ‘why’ came to me during the event. It came from people who showed up to tell me their stories. They were survivors or had just lost a loved one. They were people I didn’t know who’d heard I was riding for cancer and listening to their stories — it was amazing, and I was inspired.”
Lueders thought it might be a one-time thing, but by the end of his first ride he knew he needed to turn it into something bigger. The next year, the ride opened to the public. One hundred riders showed up, raising $33,000.
“It sort of doubled every year after until we hit 1,200 [riders] and had to cap it at that going forward,” Lueders says.
Many people ride in teams, with friends and family members tagging out throughout the night and camping out in a makeshift tent city that pops up each year on the Queens University campus. The race has prompted several fun traditions: People decorate the homes along the booty loop and gather to cheer riders, and there’s a pizza party at midnight.
For Lueders, a patent attorney and the owner of State Building Services, the highlights are more personal.
“It’s the stories of folks who are impacted, either personally or one of their family members, that hit me. This has happened to me more than once, when a survivor will come up to me and grab me by the shoulders, look me in the eye and say, ‘Without the program you funded, I wouldn’t be alive, and I’m here to tell you thank you.’ I’m honored and humbled when I hear those stories.”
There is one rider in particular — a Florida firefighter named Steve — who Lueders says literally changed the ride for hundreds of people. Funny thing is, Steve doesn’t even like riding a bike.
“He lost his son Camden at 160 days old, so Steve rides 160 miles,” Lueders explains. “I’ve been with him when he approaches 160 miles. It’s hard for him. He’s a big dude, his bike is all over the place. But you can see it in his body language and mind, and watching him as he approaches the 160 — he’s counting the final days of Camden’s life. And when he gets to 160, he pulls over and you have a moment every year — it’s super powerful and it’s actually a thing now. People will do a ‘Camden.’ People who have never ridden that far push through and ride with him, and it’s amazing.” SP
24 Hours of Booty presented by Levine Cancer Institute takes place from 7 p.m. Friday, July 30, to 7 p.m. Saturday, July 31. This year, participants can register for the in-person event or create their own experience with a virtual UnLooped event. More information at 24foundation.org.