Giving up was never an option for athlete diagnosed with leukemia

Staff Writer
Gonzales Weekly Citizen
Vinnie Tortorich rides through the California desert during the Furnace Creek 508.

Inspiration can come from the most unlikely and peculiar events. When a fit and trim professional trainer is diagnosed with a life-threatening disease, it may be rather curious, but not necessarily where the story ends.

Vinnie Tortorich has always been athletic. He excelled in sports, especially football, throughout his school years in the small town of Donaldsonville, La., and went on to play linebacker at Tulane University in New Orleans. After earning a degree in physical education, he became a trainer in the Crescent City, eventually moving to Los Angeles.

An avid cyclist, he began participating in marathons over rugged terrain, an extreme sport known as ultra cycling.

It was July 28, 2007, while on a 200-mile training ride for the Furnace Creek 508, when he learned that he had leukemia. Nearly 80 percent of his bone marrow had been affected.

“I found myself facing the most important race of my life – the race against leukemia,” he said.

A chemotherapy pump was used for 24 hours a day for several days.

Fortunate enough for his cancer to go into remission, he set two goals for himself. First, he planned to finish what he had started, which was the race he had been training for when he got the call. And second, he set out to help others who were fighting the same battle he had fought.

Ultimately, he was able to compete in the 48-hour nonstop race, the Furnace Creek 508. He raced on behalf of the Maximum Hope Foundation, a non-profit organization dedicated to helping people with cancer. A picture of 15-year-old girl who had been diagnosed with cancer was placed on his bike to motivate him, as all of the funds raised went to support her.

The 508-mile trek cut through the Mojave Desert and Death Valley, making it one of the most difficult races in cycling. Out there, the elements take the toll, whether climbing elevations or simply shrugging off weather.

With a big smile on his face, he crossed the finish line, completing the long journey that brought him through a battle with leukemia and back to cycling shape.

He said the outpouring of support has been overwhelming as many have learned his story through Internet articles and videos.

To this day, Vinnie still rides for a cause. He set up a Web site,, to share his story and to promote his charitable causes. He also offers fitness tips that he’s learned over the 25 years he’s been a trainer.

Though he’s battled through cancer, he knows there are others still fighting for their lives. Now, he’s hoping to inspire others, even if it has to be one pedal at a time.

Vinnie Tortorich is a professional trainer based in Los Angeles. He began his career in New Orleans after graduating from Tulane University.