Going the Distance for the Cause

The support of his son, daughter-in-law and grandsons inspires Bob Goehrke, PhD, to keep pedaling.

In 2015, Robert T. Goehrke, PhD, CEO and co-founder of International Products Group in Greater Salt Lake City, found himself standing on a stage in Cleveland with tears streaming down his face.

Bob, as he prefers to be called, had flown in from Utah specifically to ride in VeloSano’s signature event, the Bike to Cure weekend. Then in only its second year, VeloSano already had passionate supporters. It was about to win over another.

A former Ironman triathlete, Bob had no particular expectations for the weekend except to fulfill a pledge to cycle 50 miles on his recumbent bike and raise funds for cancer research. “I took my grandkids to the party the night before. There was a band, and all of a sudden, we were doing the ‘Living Hope’ picture, which is for all cancer survivors who are riding or volunteering for VeloSano,” he recalls.

“I’m thinking, that’s me. I’m a cancer survivor. And I got up there, and I’m with all these people, young and old, who are cancer survivors. I choked up. Even though I didn’t know any of these people, it was like they were all my best friends.”

The next day, he dedicated his ride to “the incomparable” Jihad Kaouk, MD, Director of the Center of Advanced Laparoscopic and Robotic Surgery and holder of the Zegarac-Pollock Endowed Chair in laparoscopic and robotic surgery within the Glickman Urological & Kidney Institute. Dr. Kaouk performed Bob’s surgery for prostate cancer in 2011.

“And then, unfortunately, every year thereafter, we lost a close family member to cancer — my mom, my sister-in-law, my best friend. So then it became every year I would dedicate my ride to someone very close to me and to my family,” he says.

This year was different. For 2020’s virtual VeloSano, Bob, who turns 64 this Oct. 16, did the Insanity workout every day in June. “It’s brutal, especially for someone my age. Sometimes I was on the floor panting for breath, but I probably kept up with 90 percent of it.” Still, he says, “I prefer the 50-mile ride, so I hope that we’re back to the traditional VeloSano next year.”

A native New Yorker, Bob evolved from “a high-powered corporate exec eating hot dogs off the street” into someone who pays more attention to his health, especially after having had cancer followed by open heart surgery, in 2014, by “the iconic” Marc Gillinov, MD, to repair mitral valve prolapse. Dr. Gillinov, Chair of the Department of Thoracic and Cardiovascular Surgery in the Sydell and Arnold Miller Family Heart, Vascular & Thoracic Institute, holds the Judith Dion Pyle Chair in Heart Valve Research.

Bob was working for Bristol-Myers Squibb in 1994 when the company acquired Solon-based Matrix Essentials Inc., which was founded by the Millers.

“I had the pleasure of knowing both Arnie and Sydell,” Bob says. “Arnie was a legend in the salon industry. Sydell is a very thoughtful, lovely, passionate person. She and I worked together probably almost a year.”

At first leery about being transferred from New York to Cleveland, Bob says, “From Day 1, my family and I felt so at home in Cleveland.” When he moved to Utah 15 years ago, he kept his house in the Cleveland area to be close to his three grandsons and to his medical team at Cleveland Clinic.

“I love my doctors and surgeons,” he says. “I believe that as a patient, you need to have a connection with your doctor, your surgeon. It’s important that they understand what you as a consumer are looking for, what your concerns are, what your hopes are for the outcome. I don’t want to lose that. It’s important for me to maintain those relationships with what I call the very best hospital in the world, Cleveland Clinic.”

In honor of his care providers, Bob and his wife, Tish Poling, recently made a five-year annual commitment benefiting VeloSano.

“I think that the moral of the story is the fact that I’m living an active, and completely healthy, life that I attribute directly to the amazing and proactive care that I’ve gotten from Cleveland Clinic,” he says. “I cannot be more thankful to the Clinic and to all my medical professionals there.”

How You Can Help

It’s not too late to make a gift to VeloSano! 100% of the dollars raised supports Cleveland Clinic’s cancer research. Every mile that our participants ride, and every dollar that our donors give,inspires Cleveland Clinic caregivers to pursue research that will make a difference in patients’ lives. Learn more about VeloSano here.