With help from Lance Armstrong, Jeff Castelaz brings home his trek across the U.S. to raise awareness of children’s cancer
Over the past month spent cycling across the United States in an effort to bring awareness to the cancer that claimed the life of his 6-year-old son Pablo, Los Angeles-based record label co-founder Jeff Castelaz has faced tornado warnings, muscle cramps and irate motorists.
However these physical obstacles have paled in comparison to the emotions he’s faced while balancing the painful reconciliation of his son’s death with the groundswell of support he’s received from the cancer, rock-and-roll and cycling communities, including a stop in Austin, Texas, to ride and consult with Lance Armstrong.
On May 17, 2008, Pablo Castelaz was diagnosed with bilateral Wilms’ Tumor, a rare form of children’s cancer. He underwent treatment at Childrens Hospital Los Angeles. After having a surgical procedure to remove tumors on his kidneys, as well as 11 months of chemotherapy, he succumbed to his illness on June 27 of this year, just six days after his sixth birthday.
During his son’s illness Castelaz began pouring his thoughts into a blog, titled Pablog, and eventually he and his wife Jo Ann Thrailkill created the Pablove Foundation intended to improve the lives of children with cancer, at both the national level and the local level in Los Angeles.
The goals of the non-profit foundation are to dedicate funds towards cancer research and treatment, and to establish child-life programs, exposing children undergoing treatment to art, reading, music and playrooms.
An avid cyclist, Castelaz originally conceived of the ride across the country, titled Pablove Across America, as a show of strength for his son’s victory over cancer, Instead, it became a vehicle to raise awareness and come to terms with his family’s loss.
The 3100-mile ride began in St. Augustine, Florida, on October 10 and ends Saturday, November 21, in Los Angeles at Pablo’s gravesite near Griffith Park. Though the cast of accompanying riders has varied from stage to stage, one constant has been Rick Babington, a close friend who works as a coach with the Pasadena Athletic Association and the U.S. Paracycling Team.
“It’s been a life-changing experience,” Castelaz said earlier this week from a coffee shop in Blythe, California. “It’s been everything I wanted it to be. Of course it hasn’t brought my son back. But I came out here, in part, to reconnect with my soul, in the way that most cyclists know about. And it really has happened. Somewhere in the past 3000 miles I’ve wept while riding, a bunch of times, just broken down, drooling on my bike, my tears literally hitting the road. I’ve climbed I don’t know how many feet, flown down descents, just trying to let it all go.”
More than 300 riders are expected Saturday for the final leg, a 51-mile ride from Long Beach to Los Angeles. Saturday evening the Pablove Foundation will host a benefit concert in Hollywood featuring top indie rock bands Band of Horses, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club and Sea Wolf — the latter one of a dozen bands signed to Castelaz’s Dangerbird Records label.
Dangerbird’s biggest act, Silversun Pickups, has also lent its name to support the Pablove Foundation. Silversun Pickups singer Brian Aubert lost his mother to cancer as a teenager, something Castelaz said is still “the great hurt of his life.”
Famed Garbage/Nirvana producer Butch Vig donated his time, opening the door to interested bidders to vie for the opportunity for him to produce their song, while Jimmy Eat World bass player Rick Burch, a cyclist, rode with the Pablove crew through Arizona.
Several bike-industry brands have also gotten behind the cause, with Felt donating custom-painted bicycles, Giro donating custom Pablove helmets, Capo donating custom kits and SRAM providing both components and a neutral service vehicle. Other industry brands to support the ride include Nike’s Livestrong department, Garmin, Zipp, Pedros and Continental, as well as MapMyRide.com and the Velo Pasadena bike shop.
For his part, Armstrong donated a ride around Austin on eBay to the two highest bidders, with proceeds going to the foundation. (Video from the Austin ride with Armstrong is posted on the Pablove Youtube channel.)
Armstrong and Castelaz first connected through common friend Michael Ward, a Los Angeles-based guitarist and competitive cyclist who has been a member of both The Wallflowers and Ben Harper’s band and is the author of the children’s book “Mike and the Bike,” narrated by Phil Liggett.
Armstrong met with Castelaz at Childrens Hospital in March while Pablo was still under treatment. During that visit Armstrong led a group ride that began at the hospital and ended at a Nike store in Los Angeles.
“Lance has been really amazing,” Castelaz said. “The thing that struck me the most when he met Pablo, he spoke to him like a father, he was very paternal. People think of Lance as a public figure, the guy who gnashes his teeth and kicks ass in the mountains. There’s him being a celebrity versus him being a real person versus him being a parent. It blew me away how he spoke to my son. He walked into the playroom at the Childrens Hospital, and he knows what those kids have. They have IV poles, they’re in hospital gowns, and Lance is very knowledgeable, he knows every drug in their IV. He’s been incredibly gracious, especially in terms of putting this ride together. I emailed and asked if he’d do it, and he wrote me right back and said ‘Hell yes, I’d be honored to do it.’”
After Pablo passed away, Armstrong and Livestrong posted a video online drawing attention to his life, and to the Pablove Foundation.
Castelaz admitted that the six-week bicycle journey has been emotionally difficult, but also, as intended, therapeutic.
“I’ve really been able to make some key decisions, asking myself what things I want to create in my life that can be lasting, significant things — family, business, this foundation,” he said. “I’ve been able to sort out in my mind and in my heart what’s important to me. And also what isn’t useful to me, and what I can let go of. I wouldn’t have been able to do that just riding around in Los Angeles.”
Following the ride’s culminating this weekend Castelaz will return to work at Dangerbird Records, continue directing the Pablove Foundation, and commence writing a book about his son’s battle, and the ride across the country that followed.
“The second-to-last thing Pablo said to us, maybe three minutes before he died, my wife and I were freaking out, in a blank state, and he turned around, and in a very stern voice said, ‘Say something!’ It was as if to say, ‘I’m lonely here.’ He wanted to hear a voice. And that’s the title of the book I’m writing — “Say Something!” It’s the rally cry for Pablo Across America. It’s time to live out loud. It’s not a time to hide. It’s time to get out and kick ass to honor my son, and other kids and families that are in this situation. It’s to help give them a voice, and to let people know that kids get cancer too, and it’s not somebody else’s problem. That’s what works for me as an individual, to try to help other people through our foundation.”