Riding for a reason: Hartselle man takes 611-mile journey to raise awareness of friend’s kidney disease
By Catherine Godbey
For the Enquirer
For five days, Wes Chenault and B.J. Harder faced 20 mph winds, a 3,600-foot climb, gravel roads and high-traffic highways on their 611-mile bicycle journey from Defiance, Ohio, to Decatur.
Every gust of wind and foot of elevation Chenault, of Hartselle, and Harder, of Northern Manitoba, Canada, encountered on the journey they dubbed Ride4Alex mattered.
“There is a saying we live by. It is ‘Anything. Anywhere. Anytime.’ This ride is something we could do to try to make a difference in someone’s life,” Chenault said.
That person’s life is 19-year-old Alex Hopson, of Defiance, Ohio.
In September 2022, Alex was rushed to the emergency room with extreme swelling of his face and violent vomiting. Alex, who was diagnosed with IGA Vasculitis, a rare kidney disease, several years earlier, was placed on dialysis and steroid treatments. His kidney function measured at 15%, and 80% of his kidneys were covered with scars.
Hopson’s father, Aaron Hopson, was in Decatur at a men’s movement at BComing Church when his son’s medical situation worsened. Also there was Harder, whose brother battled kidney disease for 13 years before Harder was allowed to donate a kidney to him.
“B.J. and Aaron have this unique bond. They got close because of this situation,” Chenault said. “We were all keeping up with Alex. When we saw that the time Alex had to spend on dialysis kept creeping up and that it was costing the family thousands of dollars even with insurance, we knew we needed to do something,” Chenault said.
Alex currently receives 12 hours of dialysis a day while he waits on a kidney transplant.
Chenault, who started riding a bicycle 18 months ago while training for triathlons, and Harder, who was a child the last time he rode a bike, created the mission of riding from Ohio to Alabama with the goal of arriving in Decatur a day before the BComing Man Global Summit, which begins today.
“B.J. had to go to the nearest bike store, which was hundreds of miles from where he lives in Manitoba, and he bought a bike. Because it is all frozen in Manitoba, he set up the bike in his basement and that is how he trained,” Chenault said.
The ride, which began Sunday, took the duo past Amish villages, across the Ohio River and through Ohio, Indiana, Kentucky, Tennessee and Alabama. At times, to avoid danger, they rode in the truck following them, manned by Jason Haines and his son Eli.
“The hardest day was probably the second day. We only got 63 miles in, but we were against 20 mile per hour winds the entire time. Even when we were going downhill, if we weren’t pedaling, we would stop in the road. The wind was blowing us into traffic. It was a wild experience,” Chenault said. “But we know no matter what we go through, it doesn’t compare to what Alex is going through.”
Each day, Chenault and Harder averaged 10 hours of riding. At the end of the day, they recovered with ice baths and massage guns.
Through Ride4Alex, Chenault and Harder hope to raise $50,000 to donate to the family. As of Wednesday night, the total was more than $30,000.
“Our prayer for this journey is that we are safe and that we can get the story of the Hopson family in front of as many eyes and ears as possible. We want to help the family as much as we are able,” Chenault said.
To donate, individuals can go to facebook.com/wchenault or instagram.com/wes_chenault.