CONCORD, N.C. -- Right now, Steve Matchett is approximately halfway down the Mississippi River.
Armed with nothing but a bicycle and a few travel bags, the recently retired, longtime Hendrick Motorsports employee is in the midst of a ride he has dubbed Marrow Quest.
"To me, the Mississippi River always represented America," Matchett said. "I've always been fascinated by it, so I knew at some point I wanted to see the Mississippi and travel it in some way. When I officially retired from the company at the end of April, that gave me the time to do a trip down the Mississippi. I thought about it and I thought, well, I need to do it in a way that isn't just a total good time, I need to find a way where it will help other people and bring some attention to something that needs attention, which immediately made me think of the Hendrick Marrow Program."
The Hendrick Marrow Program, established by Rick Hendrick after he was diagnosed with leukemia in 1996, is a program of Be The Match.
The goal of the program is to raise money to support patients in need of a transplant. Specifically, it offers grants to patients recipients to aid with uninsured transplant-related expenses through the Hendrick Family Fund for Patient Assistance. It also funds recruitment initiatives to add more potential marrow donors to the Be The Match Registry.
Even though Hendrick, owner of Hendrick Motorsports and chairman of Hendrick Automotive Group, did not need a marrow transplant himself, he was driven to help other patients searching for a marrow match and give them a second chance at life.
That stood out to Matchett.
"I personally am a cancer survivor, and what I remember when I was first told I had cancer was this feeling of closed-in isolation, 'Oh my God I'm alone in this battle that I've got to fight,'" he said. "One of the things that I see when I meet these cancer patients in the hospitals is their smiles are so genuine, they're so happy, and I think it's because they're seeing someone from the outside come in and show an interest and tell them that they're not alone.
"That's the thing the Hendrick Marrow Program does. In addition to the financial support that it gives to the patients and their families, it shows them that somebody cares and that they're there to help, and that support really means a lot. I know that because I was there."
To this point, the Hendrick Marrow Program has helped raise more than $13 million, added more than 100,000 members to the Be The Match Registry and given more than 8,000 patients grants from the Hendrick Family Fund for Patient Assistance.
Matchett hopes his Marrow Quest ride down the Mississippi – which he has been chronicling in a blog on MarrowQuest.org -- can help the cause even further.
And the fact that Hendrick has given him his support "means everything."
"One of the things I learned by watching (Hendrick) was how to be aware of other people, because he is totally aware of the people around him," Matchett noted. "I said, 'You're aware of people, you're aware of what they need, you're aware of ways to help them. I learned that from you.' So this is me paying back because I've been with the company for 26 years and was looking for something that I could give Mr. Hendrick as a way to express my profound thanks and appreciation for everything I've seen him do for me and other people. It was an easy decision."
Along the way, Matchett has visited hospitals and asked marrow donors, marrow recipients and recovering cancer patients to sign his bike, which he calls the "Silver Flash." His plan is to donate the bicycle to the Hendrick Marrow Program to be auctioned off once the Marrow Quest comes to a close.
Meeting those patients and donors has been one of the most rewarding parts of the trip for Matchett.
"They keep saying, 'Oh, thank you for what you're doing.' What I keep telling them is, don't forget, I'm having a terrific time!" he said. "I've seen more of this country than I've seen in ages, I've met wonderful people -- it has been hugely more than I had even hoped for.
"It has been an immensely rewarding journey."