Brandon J. Case would be 35 this year.
The young man who succumbed to leukemia symptoms in 1999 was just 21 years old and fell ill at a time he was deciding between two ambitious career paths: doctor or lawyer.
Paul Zbiek, Case’s stepfather and a professor at King’s College, described his stepson as a fellow who smiled through adversity and was destined to accomplish great things.
“He not only was my stepson, he was a student of mine. He always said he had to work harder for my classes,” Zbiek said with a thoughtful laugh.
Since he has passed, Zbiek has pedaled for nearly 100 collective hours atop his bicycle mounted to a stationary stand accomplishing ultra-marathon feats in an event he started called Spin for Life to raise money for the Brandon J. Case Memorial Fund, which is administered by The Luzerne Foundation.
Zbiek has also set up the Brandon J. Case Memorial Scholarship through King’s. The scholarship is awarded each year to one outstanding King’s history or geography student.
This year marks the 13th annual Spin for Life, and Zbiek will split the money raised between the foundation and Candy’s Place, a cancer victim’s resource center located on Welles Street in Forty Fort.
On Feb. 22, Zbiek, 62, will begin a 35-hour haul for his annual fundraiser. He adds one hour for each year Case would have been alive.
The 62-year-old follows the UltraMarathon Cycling Association’s rules for indoor ultra marathons. He is allowed one five-minute break every hour and one 15-minute break every six hours.
As he does every year, Dave Kaplan, owner of Sickler’s bike shop in Clarks Summit, is to bring 20 stationary bikes for fellow riders to hop on for 45-minute stints.
Finding the ‘zone’
Zbiek began preparing to ride back in November. He said it takes about 12 weeks to train for such an endurance run. He rides throughout the year, putting miles behind him on roads all over Pennsylvania and completing about 10,000 miles annually.
During the Spin for Life, Zbiek said he tries to work himself into a grove he calls “the zone.”
“I’m not alone in this. I’ve talked with friends who do ultra marathons, and you get into a zone of such incredible focus,” he said.
Cyclists work themselves into a mental state when their muscles and thoughts feel like they’re melding into one, Zbiek said. Regular muscle fatigue diminishes and, barring any extraneous injury, it becomes peaceful.
Zbiek recalled one Spin for Life event a few years back held at Sickler’s when the peace consumed him. He was pedaling alone and found himself in a deep rhythm.
“One year … I actually nodded off,” he said.
Legs still pumping, Zbiek sneaked in a snooze that was interrupted by a Sickler’s employee who accidentally slammed a door.
When it’s all over, he said he doesn’t feel exhausted. For the past few years, he’s gone out with his wife, Case’s mother, Donna, for a few drinks and then sleeps a solid nine hours.
Case was diagnosed in 1997. He fought for three years and was treated admirably by doctors at University of Penn Hospital, Zbiek said.
“He actually was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s disease first. He was in remission after the chemo treatment, and it looked like there was a recurrence. They found out it was leukemia, which sometimes does happen as a result of the chemo,” he said.
Even after receiving a bone-marrow transplant, Case could not recover.
“Even though he knew toward the end that this was not good, people would come to see him and within in a few minutes he would have them laughing,” Zbiek said. “That was just the way he was.”