As long as Verona resident Jake Barker’s health is good, he wants to use it to improve the lives of others.

He does so by competing in cycling challenges, having just finished up the Great Cycle Challenge during the month of June, when he raised $287 for childhood cancer research and put in 253 miles around Verona and Madison. He is also looking to participate in UW Health’s The Ride in September for a second year, Barker said.

“What got me into it originally was just the thought of combining something that I really enjoyed and do for recreation, and also doing a good cause,” he said. “I get motivation to do something that keeps me healthy, while helping others that aren’t as fortunate in their health.”

Barker, a Dubuque, Iowa, native, picked up the hobby of cycling six or seven years ago, he told the Press last week, after moving to the Madison area and noticing how large of a presence cycling held.

Dubuque wasn’t what he would consider a “bike-friendly environment,” he said, so after he moved, he quickly purchased a road bike.

“I kind of took off from there,” he said.

In the beginning, cycling was simply meant to be recreational for Barker, and served as his main source of cardio, he said. But two years ago, he participated in a biking fundraiser for land conservation efforts for his birthday.

“I had a lot of fun doing that, and I had the idea to keep my eye out for other fundraisers from that point, because it’s something that I enjoy and I can (help) a good cause in the process.”

Barker found out about the Great Cycle Challenge from a post on his Facebook feed, a fact he said he hates to admit.

“With different groups that I follow on Facebook, and Facebook doing what Facebook does with the algorithms and what not, that was something that popped up,” he said.

With the Great Cycle Challenge, Barker said he was allowed to set his own goals for how much he wanted to fundraise, and how many miles he wanted to put in during the month of June.

He set for himself a goal of $250 and 250 miles, surpassing both.

With the Great Cycle Challenge behind him, Barker is shifting gears to fundraise for The Ride, which took a backburner during the month of June.

Last year, Barker found out about The Ride only a few weeks ahead of the event, so in order to participate, he donated his own funds, but this year, he has the time to fundraise.

An uphill climb

Whether he’s competing to raise money or not, Barker said he tries to get out and rack up miles at least once a week; however, that goal isn’t always easy to reach with his lifestyle.

Being a bartender at Sugar River Pizza Company, Barker said he’s often forced to be a night owl. He prefers early morning rides, he said, but his sleep schedule sometimes gets in the way.

So instead, Barker rides in the later evening hours, but has to reserve his rides for the days he’s off from work.

Barker said the riding he did for the Great Cycle Challenge was good – when he could actually get outside, considering the rainfall that took place last month.

Barker was also sidelined partway through the month by a recurring shoulder injury, where his left shoulder will occasionally pop out of its socket, and it forced him to take a few days off.

“That was my biggest fear,” he said. “I had an incident with this shoulder where I reinjured it about halfway through the month, and the next week was pretty tough. I wasn’t sure how everything was going to go after that, but I’m pretty stubborn.”

Motivation to move

Participating in fundraisers pushes Barker to go further with his fitness activities.

Barker said he’s often not good with setting fitness goals and lacks organization, but the structure of both the Great Cycle Challenge and The Ride give him something to work toward.

It also helps that he knows someone who survived a bout of cancer, too – his grandmother, who survived breast cancer – to help motivate him to put in the miles.

But Barker would put in the miles for cancer research, regardless, he said.

“It being a good cause in general is good enough for me,” he said.

Email reporter Kimberly Wethal at and follow her on Twitter @kimberly_wethal.