By Damon Cline 
Posted Feb 9, 2019 at 8:09 PM Updated Feb 9, 2019 at 8:09 PM

Link to full Augusta Chronicle here.

The founders of Paceline Ride searched high and low to find someone to launch its inaugural bike-ride fundraiser this spring.

As they winnowed their way through a long list of national candidates, it seemed all roads from Augusta were leading to an Englishman in New York: Martyn Jones.

The fit 44-year-old is practically tailor-made for the position, being a lifelong cyclist and a veteran in corporate marketing and cause-based promotions. But Jones’ passion for the organization, which aims to raise money for research at the Georgia Cancer Center at Augusta University, stems from the loss of his father to cancer as well as his own years-long battle with a debilitating illness.

“It did feel like somewhat of a calling when I first got wind of the challenge here,” Jones said.

Paceline Ride borrows the charity-ride concept from Columbus, Ohio’s Pelotonia, an event that has raised $187 million during the past 10 years for cancer research at Ohio State University.

Paceline Ride’s inaugural event May 10-11 will feature a 20-, 45- and 100-mile ride starting at AU’s Summerville campus. The 20-mile ride terminates in Grovetown; the 45-mile ride ends in Thomson; and the 100-mile ride makes a circuit back to Augusta.

Like Pelotonia, Paceline Ride is set up to donate 100 percent of the $100 to $1,000 rider pledges by funding the ride through corporate sponsorships.

The local ride is the brainchild of Augusta native Dag Grantham and his wife, Alicia, who are avid cyclists and former Columbus residents. The physical and spiritual high they experienced on their 100-mile ride in 2018 set the local wheels in motion.

“We said we’ve got to do this in Augusta,” Dag Grantham said. “We were blown away by the emotional impact. It is a very grand event.”

Grantham said Pelotonia has turned down numerous communities that have sought their counsel to replicate the ride, but he said his pitch to Pelotonia CEO Doug Ulman was met with a thumbs-up.

“They believe in who we are, and they are supporting us tremendously,” Grantham said. “At the end of the day, Pelotonia’s goal is to cure cancer. So they recognized that being there as a sounding board for us is just going to accelerate the effort.”

The Medical College of Georgia Foundation seeded the initiative with $1.5 million. Foundation President Ian Mercier said its goal is to help fund the cancer center’s clinical trials and researcher-recruitment efforts – the two biggest hurdles to becoming the nation’s 14th NCI-designated cancer center.

The center’s $62.5 million M. Bert Storey Research Building, one of less than a dozen facilities in the nation researching cancer’s impact on African-Americans, was dedicated in December.

“We have all this new lab space, now we need to actively recruit these world-class researchers,” Mercier said. “We have some, but we need more.”

Mercier said Paceline Ride operates under the foundation’s auspices, but he said he envisions the organization becoming a stand-alone nonprofit within a few years. He said the initiative also promotes healthy lifestyles by encouraging novice riders to train for the noncompetitive event.

Though the ride will be the organization’s signature event, Paceline Ride will operate as a year-round social movement, Jones said.

“It has to be that way because we have a 365-day-a-year challenge in fighting cancer,” he said.

Jones is used to running large organizations, having served as a director of Bounty U.K. Ltd., which specialized in marketing products to young families in Europe. While there, he organized several “coast-to-coast” charity rides across Britain.

“Everybody knew me as ‘the guy who liked cycling,’” said Jones, a native of Hertfordshire in northern England.

He enjoyed riding for charity so much that in 2008 he embarked on a 21-day solo Tour de France ride to support the British Heart Foundation and the Association of Young People with M.E., a support organization for children and young adults with mononucleosis, a chronic-fatigue condition that Jones battled for seven years in his 20s.

The illness debilitated Jones physically and mentally during the prime of his life, but it also taught him to relate to those battling chronic conditions. That resolve was strengthened by the sudden death of his father shortly after being diagnosed with an uncommon form of skin cancer.

“It was very aggressive,” Jones recalled. “It went from 0 to stage 4 in a week. He was given three months to live; he ended up living six.”

Jones’ experience with cause-driven marketing and his personal story tipped the scales in his favor, said Gordon Renshaw, the senior director of Express Employment Professionals, the Augusta firm hired to conduct the nationwide search.

“Martyn is someone who can embody the spirit of a movement and be somebody that people want to follow,” Renshaw said. “It takes a special kind of person to do that.”

Jones has been working for Paceline Ride for nearly three months. He and his wife, Celine, a Virginia native who grew up in New York, are in the process of moving from Manhattan to Augusta with the intent of making the Garden City their long-term home.

“There is nothing more committed than moving from where you were living,” said Jones, whose only previous experience with Augusta was watching the Masters Tournament on television with his father.

Mercier said he is confident Paceline Ride will be able to generate $4 million to $6 million annually within a few years.

“That would transform the landscape for the Georgia Cancer Center,” he said. “The community has been overwhelmingly supportive, so we know it will be successful.”