Gasparoli: A son’s journey back home

September 13, 2013 

I remember the first time I met Toni Lipscomb. Minutes after we said hello, she was carrying forth. Her intelligence, passion and ability to really listen … well, she ’bout knocked me down, in a good way.

I knew I was in the company of someone remarkable, someone who didn’t back away from her convictions, who had ideas bursting from her mind and dancing in the air like lightning bugs over the lawn on a hot summer night.

What I didn’t know at the time is how many other people felt the same way. Toni, daughter of O. Ray and LaFayette Lipscomb, became a Brown alum, Harvard MBA grad and highly successful consultant and community volunteer here. She was a force of nature, and a force for good.

I only saw Toni Lipscomb one time after that first time.

A few months later, I met one of the three sons Toni had with her husband, Mark Abram, a Durham developer and construction executive. The other two children: Wesley and Adam.

A few minutes with Nick, who was about 16 then, and I said to someone with me, “Was that the coolest kid in the world or what?” Like mother, like son.

I’d only seen Nick one time after that first time.

But the other day, I was told that Nick Abram, now studying at Stanford, was riding his bike for a cause, forging a rather amazing path of his own. Abram and his friend and classmate, Chris Min, were trekking from California to North Carolina.

That’s right, riding bikes some 2,800 miles across the country. A two-month trip. And get this: these two young men weren’t really bike riders. Their slogan: “Two bad bikers battling cancer one mile at a time.”

Two thousand eight hundred sweltering, sometimes dangerous miles. Some of the travel points: Wolf Creek Pass through the Continental Divide, El Dorado Springs, Mo., Loogootee, Ind. Seeing old friends, making new ones. Being careful, but seeing a few creatures in the night. Adventure, surprise, effort. Extraordinary effort.

Two young men on a mission.

On the young men’s blog, at, Nick wrote: “I am dedicating this trip to my mother.” He said he wanted to be able to understand what a real struggle was all about.

You see, Nick’s mother, the all but indomitable Toni Lipscomb, died of cancer almost 14 months ago, on May 25, 2012. When her pancreatic cancer was first discovered, it had already spread and lined her stomach. Doctors said with some certainty, “Six months.”

The doctors were wrong. For more than three years, they were wrong. At one point, Toni appeared cancer-free. The word miracle cautiously came into play.

Throughout, Toni was about perseverance, not self-pity. Setbacks just meant she asked for more prayer, which she received. And all those ideas Toni had in her head, they never stopped coming.

Late last week, Nick Abram wrote me from Johnson City, Tenn. A quick stop for fuel. He’d just finished a chicken club quesadilla and “lots of water and strawberry lemonade.”

“I think about my mom all the time while I bike,” Nick wrote. “I especially remember when I am biking up tough hills.”

Nick and Chris’s ride benefits the Bass Center for Childhood Cancer and Blood Diseases at Stanford’s Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital in Palo Alto, Calif. Donations can be made online at

Nick wrote, “We don't want children to suffer the same way our families did. Hopefully what we do helps.”

Chris Min decided to do this ride with Nick Abram because of the death of a loved one to lung cancer when Chris was in the eighth grade. On the blog, Chris wrote, “I ride in memory of my grandfather and the way he loved his children.”

The two aimed to raise $10,000. They’ll probably be short of that goal, so you are still invited to contribute.

Mark Abram, on his oldest son, Nick.“This journey was so well-suited to honor his mom. They both loved to travel.”

Nick and Chris had not planned to arrive last weekend. A few detours on the long bike trip slowed them. Then, not long ago, Nick realized something. Saturday, Sept. 7, was his mother’s birthday. So, if they timed things just right ...

No doubt, Toni Lipscomb would say it was planned all along. She’d seen to it.

Toni would have turned 52 on Saturday, as the young men rode home. 2,800 miles completed. A country crossed.

“A sense of closure,” Nick wrote me from the road. “I know my mom would want to be remembered this way. Our family is a family of fighters.”

One mile at a time. Like mother, like son.

Tom Gasparoli can be reached at or 919-219-0042

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