Photo: Smiley N. Pool, Staff / Houston Chronicle
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Donna Plewa-Allen of Katy recently received recognition as one of the top fundraisers out of approximately 1,000 cyclists who participated in the Bike Around the Bay fundraiser for the Galveston Bay Foundation.
The two-day event allows Plewa-Allen to combine her love of cycling with her love of the outdoors. This was the fourth or fifth year that she’s participated in the Bike Around the Bay. It started after a girlfriend asked her to participate.
“My daughter and her did it first,” said Plewa-Allen. “Then I started. It’s smaller than the MS 150, which means you don’t have the congestion of the MS 150. It benefits a service of taking care of Galveston Bay. I like the opportunity to take care of a natural resource. You don’t thank about the bay needing care. It’s just there.”
Cycling seems to always have been part of her life. “I grew up riding bikes because it was a means of transportation,” she said. “When my children were little, it was a way to keep them active.”
In 2001-02, Plewa Allen started training for the MS 150. “I did that for about 10 years until it got so crowded that I felt uncomfortable and not safe.” The Bike Around the Bay doesn’t have those same kinds of crowds, she said, and she feels it’s a safe ride.
She enjoys riding her road bike. “I can ride two days on a bicycle. Bike Around the Bay was just ‘OK, that will be my fundraising opportunity for the year.”
Cycling for a good cause is nothing new for the physical therapy assistant at Houston Methodist West Outpatient Rehabilitation.
At 59, Plewa-Allen is a breast-cancer survivor of 23 years who had served as a volunteer with Tour De Pink, a multi-day charity bike ride that raises funds to help women with breast cancer.
“I used to lead the training ride for Tour de Pink breast cancer bike ride that we did years ago. Because we lost major funding for it, that decreased,” she said. She also participates in charity bike rides that benefit veterans, Alzheimer’s patients and adults with disabilities, for example, but said she only really raises funds for Galveston Bay. She raised $4,192 in support of this year’s ride and Galveston Bay.
Claire Everett, foundation communications and marketing manager, said “We were able to reach 91 percent of our goal, raising almost $579K to preserve and protect Galveston Bay.
Held since 2007, Bike Around the Bay consistently has more than 1,100 cyclists register and hosts 900+ on the weekend of the event, said Everett.
“Funds raised from Bike Around the Bay go toward Galveston Bay Foundation’s mission to preserve and protect Galveston Bay for generations to come. You’ll find us in communities and schools, on the water and on the ground working in five main program areas: youth education, habitat restoration, water protection, land conservation and advocacy,” she said.
“Galveston Bay Foundation’s work is made possible in part through funds Bike Around the Bay participants raise. This year, we had a fantastic ride. We couldn’t have asked for more supportive and enthusiastic cyclists, sponsors and volunteers. Each of them makes a difference in preserving and protecting Galveston Bay for generations to come,” said Everett.
Making a difference is important to Plewa-Allen.
“I think a lot of it is that I’m still here today,” she said, “and so that if I can help one person’s life be better because of the journey I’ve already walked to this date then life is very important. It’s not all about me.
“Helping, giving back . . . everybody has things that happen in their lives and everybody has limitations — you can’t see everybody’s. Everybody has been hurt somewhere. If you can be kind and compassionate that might make a big difference in someone’s life that you don’t even know about,” she said.
In addition to participating in the Pink Ribbons Project for breast cancer, she was an Olympic torch bearer. Plewa-Allen explained she had a girlfriend who called and said she wanted to nominate her for something. “I said ‘fine’, ‘whatever.’”
Plewa-Allen later learned her friend had nominated her to carry the Olympic torch for the 2002 winter Olympics in Salt Lake City. Never thinking she’d be chosen, Plewa-Allen received a packet in the mail saying that she had been selected by Chevy, which had established requirements for nominees to meet.
Requirements included the nominee overcoming adversity, which Plewa-Allen did by surviving the breast cancer diagnosed at age 36. Community service also was required. “I walked six 60-mile walks in four years raising over $20,000,” she said. Plewa-Allen explained that she had participated in the Avon three-day program where they walk to raise money for services and not so much for cancer research.
“Had I not received services I would not have been here today,” she said.
In Houston on Dec. 5, 2001, Plewa-Allen carried the Olympic flame as a torch runner about two-tenths of a mile. “It was really an exciting time,” she remembers. “You don’t actually pass the torch, you pass the flame. The gentleman who passed the flame to me had had cancer and he went on to be a pediatric oncologist so when I took my flame from Todd, I hugged him. When I passed my flame to Dana — she taught special ed in Fort Bend County —I hugged her. That’s how the picture came to be.”
While cycling or swimming are her preferred sports, Plewa-Allen also has run. “I’m technically not a runner,” she said. “I have run four half-marathons though for friendships and with my daughter.” Her daughter Jackie Allen of Richmond is both a cyclist and a runner.
Plewa-Allen enjoys taking a bike ride on weekends and more than one if she’s in training. She’s cycled in the Davis Mountains and Big Bend National Park.
“I just go outside and enjoy the fresh air with friends and ride roads west of Houston because they’re a little safer,” she said. “When we first started riding, we used to ride in Fulshear all the time. But with the population growth out in Fulshear, we now tend to go more toward Bellville or northwest of Katy.
“I’m an outdoor person. I always have been one.”
She also teaches water aerobics. After people started coming to the pool with the start of bench aerobics and steps, she took up someone’s suggestion to be a therapist. She went back to school — Houston Community College — to become a physical therapist and has been for 20 years now.