Courage Ride honors 11-year-old cancer survivor

Devin Martz is back on a bike thanks to medical science, hard work and a UI student

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KALONA — When hundreds of bicyclists head out of Kalona on Saturday for the 12th annual Courage Ride, Devin Martz plans to be part of the action.

The fact that Devin, 11, of Muscatine, is even able to ride a bicycle might be considered a bit of a miracle. But the wonders of medicine, hard work and determination and a whole lot of help from a biomedical engineering student at the University of Iowa have made it possible.

Devin was diagnosed with osteosarcoma — a cancerous tumor in a bone that commonly affects teens and young adults — in his left knee June 2016.

Three months later, he underwent surgery to have the knee removed. Through a procedure called a rotationplasty, doctors rotated the bottom portion of Devin’s leg 180 degrees and reattached it to the upper part of his leg. Devin’s left foot now points in the opposite direction and his ankle functions as a knee.

One year after surgery, Devin is cancer free and he’s being honored Saturday at the Courage Ride, an annual bike ride along Eastern Iowa paved and gravel roads that raises money for the University of Iowa Holden Comprehensive Cancer Center’s Sarcoma Research Program. Established in 2005, the ride is dedicated to the memory of Seth Bailey — son of founders Tom and Jackie Bailey — who died in 2003 after a battle with soft-tissue synovial sarcoma cancer.

Sarcomas are a diverse and relatively rare group of malignant tumors that develop in soft tissues and bone. There are more than 150 subtypes of sarcoma cancer, according to Courage Ride officials.

This year’s event begins at 6 a.m. at Iowa Mennonite School, 1421 540th St. SW in Kalona. Riders start at their own time and ride at their own pace on one of several suggested routes ranging from 16 to 100 miles. Food, entertainment, a silent auction and skin cancer screenings are all part of the day.

Cost to participate is $85 for adults, $15 for youth ages 13 to 17 and free for kids 12 and younger. For more information, go to courageride.org.

To date, the ride has raised nearly $560,000 and $380,000 has been donated to research of sarcoma cancer.

Devin is the first child honoree, said Leora Houghton, executive director of Courage Ride.

Because of his surgery, however, taking part in the ride was a bit of a long shot.

So Houghton reached out to Conor Bryant, a biomedical engineering student at the University of Iowa, and asked him to think of a unique way the Courage Ride could honor Devin.

“She told me about his amputation and the situation that he was in ... and that he can’t ride his bike — or he wasn’t able to ride his bike at this point, yet he was being honored at a bike ride,” Bryant said. “I said, ‘I can probably make him a prosthetic over the summer if that was something he’d be interested in,’ ” Bryant said.

Devin’s family was all in.

“In my wildest imagination, I could never have thought of Conor coming up with a bike riding prosthesis,” Houghton said.

Bryant became involved with the Courage Ride after two of his friends — Nik Jiruska and Jay Burger — were diagnosed with sarcoma several years ago and died last year. Bryant still wears a black and gold rubber bracelet on his wrist that reads “You da man, Nik” that was once used as entry to a fundraiser Bryant was helping organize to raise funds for their treatments.

After the death of his friends, Bryant became less involved — it was hard to keep the motivation, he said.

But when Bryant got the call from Houghton, he knew he could help.

Two months later — after designing, creating and building the prosthetic with assistance from professors — Bryant had a working model.

“I did all of this under $200 and I had $2,000 to work with,” Bryant said. So I have a lot more I can do with this which is pretty awesome and then the rest of it I’ll just donate to the ride.

“It’s pretty exciting, I got a lot of support.”

Iowa City bike shops Geoff’s Bike & Ski and World of Bikes also pitched in, donating bikes for Devin and his brother to receive at Saturday’s ride.

For Lindsay Martz, Devin’s mom, the journey has been bittersweet, but the family always remained optimistic, especially as Devin relearns how to do actions he once enjoyed, like running, biking and skateboarding.

“It’s been really hard to know that he’s learning all of these things all over again, but as a parent watching him go through it — I love seeing him do those things again,” Lindsay said. “I like to watch him hit the milestones, but at the same time I feel horrible that he has to go through this again.”

Organizers of the Courage Ride said more than 100 adults and children in Iowa are diagnosed each year with soft tissue or bone sarcoma. They said funding provided through the ride makes up 85 percent of sarcoma research funding at the Holden Comprehensive Cancer Center. To date, the money has supported 14 clinical trials and the creation of the only sarcoma tissue bank in the Midwest, they added.

“(The Courage Ride) is a feeling of one big team — doctors, volunteers — everyone is a member of one big team,” Houghton said. “There is a cohesive feeling of support of everybody — support for family members, survivors, support for doctors, support for volunteers.”

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