After emergency deployment, CDC employee cycles for charity, sets record

photo provided by Lauren De Crescenzo

photo provided by Lauren De Crescenzo

Within a week, Lauren De Crescenzo completed a 60-day COVID-19 emergency-response deployment and set an Everesting world record.

De Crescenzo is a Renaissance woman, a former pro cyclist who found her next career in public health. She retired from cycling in 2016 after sustaining a post-traumatic brain injury, which required about two months in the Craig Hospital in Denver.

“That was the worst thing that’d ever happened in my life,” she said. “It was horrible. Living at the hospital was horrible. It was a great hospital, and they do great, great work, but living there was horrible. Being confined for that long. I’m used to being a pro cyclist, being able to ride anywhere and travel the world, and then just living at a rehab center. It was really hard.”

During that time, De Crescenzo found the motivation to do something she always wanted: return to school and study public health. The Emory graduate then got her master’s degree from the Colorado School of Public Health. Her retirement opened a new path.

“That was the impetus, sitting in the hospital like that, I wanted to go back to school and study public health,” she said.

De Crescenzo, 29, is a research fellow with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, working in the Department of Injury Prevention. She recently completed a COVID-19 emergency-response session in which she worked 12-hour days through a 60-day period. Yet she found time to train for an unexpected opportunity.

Jim, her fiancée and a medical student at Emory, wanted to raise money for Grady Memorial Hospital’s Marcus Trauma Center and found a means to do so through Everesting. De Crescenzo eagerly wanted to join him, hoping to raise money for Craig – the hospital that guided her through her most trying times.

“It was his idea first,” she said. “He was saying he was doing it for Grady. And I thought, ‘Wait a second, I want to raise money for Craig.’ Then I said, ‘Wait a second, I want to set a world record.’ I’m a little competitive (laughs). So if I’m going to do it, I might as well break the world record.”

Everesting has been especially popular lately, with the coronavirus pandemic slowing competitive cycling. In the exercise, cyclists ascend and descend a hill to the point where they’ve climbed 8,848 meters – Mount Everest’s elevation. In this case, De Crescenzo used the Hogpen Gap in the North Georgia mountains.

On May 31, De Crescenzo set the new women’s Everesting world record at 9:57:29 – yes, that’s almost 10 hours on the bike.

“It was the hardest day I’ve ever had on a bike,” the Colorado native said. “I’d never ridden longer than eight hours, so hours eight to 10 were uncharted territory. I’d never cried on a bike, but I cried because I was in so much pain. It was challenging. I had some friends, other Emory kids, CDC colleagues, I had a bunch of friends on the top of the mountain who were helping me all day, feeding me food, water, Red Bull, whatever I needed.”

Everesting’s climbing prominence has made records change hands quickly. De Crescenzo bested Katie Hall’s record of 10:01:42, which was set six days earlier. This past weekend, her own mark was passed by Hannah Rhodes in England.

But most important, De Crescenzo’s trek raised around $1,100 for Craig’s COVID-19  relief fund, which she said will help patients who can’t have visitors keep in touch with friends and family.

“All this money, I joke about it, is going towards stuff like iPads,” she said. “It was very important to me because when I was at Craig, and I was a patient for about two months, I really looked forward to visits from my family and my friends coming to see me. I couldn’t imagine being there right now and not having that. I wanted to help those people who are at the depths of it right now.”

It was a chance for De Crescenzo to combine her passions. Since her retirement, she’s still trained and cycled for the love of it, participating in gravel races and riding to Stone Mountain routinely. It was extremely difficult to step away from cycling, despite her injury, and she acknowledged it as “part of my identity.”

“It’s so hard to step away,” she said. “I keep training. I don’t know what I’m training for, I just need something to keep me motivated during the pandemic. Everything is closed, and there are no races. I needed an outlet, and this was it: raising money for Craig Hospital and setting a record.”