The Ride of Her Life: Mo. woman battles cancer, notoriety, to help charity
By Geoff Belcher
Jan 29, 2013, 17:36
The past couple of weeks have been a wild ride for Freda Swigert, in more ways than one.
Swigert, a Missouri native, was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and a brain tumor last October – ironically, while she was on a cross-country bike-a-thon to raise money for the American Cancer Society. While she has overcome cancer twice before, doctors say this time it is likely terminal.
While riding across the Gulf Coast on the bike trip, she fell in love with Bay St. Louis and has dedicated her last days to helping the non-profit Starfish Cafe get up and running.
The cafe, located at 211 Main Street in Old Town, will be a non-profit restaurant and a training ground, both for local high school students and for adults who are looking to build career skills. It will reach out to people who have suffered from abuse or drug or alcohol addictions in order to help them get their lives back on track.
"Freda is probably the most courageous, inspirational person I've ever met," Starfish Cafe-founder "Lady" Di Fillhart said recently.
Freda accepts the praise as calmly and directly as she deals with her cancer. She doesn't view herself as a hero. She sees herself as someone determined to get a job done.
"If I can get this accomplished," she says, speaking about the cafe, "I can rest in peace."
Since Freda's story went public, she's become something of a local celebrity, being featured on local and New Orleans television new programs and getting a lot of attention from well-wishers all across the Coast.
She's been invited to ride in the Krewe of Nereids parade this Sunday. Members of the Nereids and the Krewe of Eros are rounding up a costume and throws for her.
"It was on my 'bucket list' just to see a Mardi Gras parade," she said, "but I never thought I'd be riding in one."
One of the ways Freda is trying to help the cafe is by raising money through bike riding. She has vowed to ride on every last mile of paved street within Bay St. Louis city limits.
This past Saturday, she and about 20 others did a 10-mile bike ride from the Starfish Cafe down the beach and back, raising about $1,600. Three of the riders were friends from back home in Glasgow, Mo.
"That was very surprising," Freda said Saturday. "I didn't know they were coming."
On Monday, she got a call from some members of the Gulf Coast Bicycle Club. A group from the club will ride with her again this Saturday, leaving from the Starfish Cafe at 10 a.m.
Everyone is invited to join in.
"I want people to ride with me any given day," Freda said Tuesday.
She rides about 25 miles a day, every day, unless she's not feeling up to it.
To ride with Freda on Saturday – or any day – call her at 228-363-8077.
Donations may be mailed to: PNEUMA Winds of Hope, 113 Cecilia St., Bay St. Louis, MS 39520.