On June 22 and 23 I rode, for my fourth time, in the annual Ride for Roswell. With plenty of advance notice, and Roswell Park’s reputation backing me, I easily surpassed my fundraising goal of $1,000 by simply reaching out to friends and family with an email request for support.
Riders who reach this goal qualify as members of Roswell’s Extra Mile Club. In turn, up to 200 of these Extra Mile Club riders are then invited to participate in the opening night kick-off Peloton – a police-escorted bike ride beginning on the grounds of Roswell Park Cancer Institute, wending its way through city streets and ending at the University at Buffalo North Campus. My brother Jim and I have been among the riders in this group for the past three years.
In addition to the 33-mile route I had chosen to ride on Saturday, Friday’s Peloton added another 12 miles to the tally. Explaining this to non-riders is often amusing, sometimes consternating. How many times have I heard: “You mean, as a reward for raising that much money, you have to ride an additional 12 miles?” or “They should take 12 miles off your route.” But the fact is that it is a privilege to ride in the Peloton.
As a cancer survivor, and with a host of friends and relatives themselves affected to various degrees, I am inspired to ride. I am inspired to raise funds and awareness. I am inspired to succeed.
This last ride, however, and one telling moment in particular, inspired me yet further. As riders, we receive small index cards upon which we are asked to write the names of loved ones we wish to honor. These can be affixed to our bikes or posted at Inspiration Station.
On Friday night, just before we embarked on our trek, and as the opening remarks at Roswell Park were winding down, volunteers walked down the line of riders, passing out similar index cards to all. But strangers’ names already filled the blank spaces, along with the name of a dreaded disease. “Mark – Pancreatic Cancer” and “Suzanne – Uterine Cancer” read mine. I wondered too briefly: “Who are these people?” But I was busy focusing on my own cards. A close friend has been thriving under care from Roswell Park. A favorite uncle has recently been diagnosed with lung cancer. In October, we lost a cousin to bladder cancer all too suddenly.
But no time to think, the final speaker was wrapping up. He called for the riders, all 200 of us, to turn and face the hospital. Pointing to the banks of windows lining the end of the hospital building, we saw a sea of faces in silhouette. He told us, “The cards you are holding are from patients here at Roswell. All of those who were able have left their beds and come down the hall to cheer you on and to thank you for your efforts.”
In unison, we riders held our cards aloft in salute to those inside. And with that small gesture, suddenly this entire event became, for me, bigger than my personal goals, bigger than my friends, bigger than my family. United by a common bond, Suzanne and Mark and all those countless other faces in the windows were an inspiration of incredible importance. And I felt I knew them as friends and neighbors, unified in our determination to fight and win.
At last count, more than 10,000 supporters set a new record this year by raising $3.7 million to help fund research in the fight against cancer. And that, my friends, is inspirational.
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