WESTPORT -- Typically, whenever New Canaan and Darien residents are involved in some type of athletic competition, it's a toe-to-toe, back-and-forth slug fest which often builds towards a dramatic conclusion in the game's waning minutes -- or seconds.
On Saturday, however, it was a far different story. New Canaan and Darien residents combined forces to take on something far bigger than any border rival, as they participated in the eighth annual Connecticut Bike Ride Challenge in Westport, a fundraising event to help cancer patients.
Captain Kim Kiner of Darien is herself a breast cancer survivor, and she has participated in the ride for seven straight years, only missing its first year in 2005. On Saturday, Kiner captained her squad, known simply as "Team Darien-New Canaan." She was accompanied on her 25-mile bike ride by daughters Sammee, 14, and Kasey, 11. Sammee was participating in her sixth bike ride challenge while Kasey was making her debut.
"The mood is always very upbeat, but it is quite emotional on many levels. The opening ceremonies kick off your emotional flow because it recognizes what everyone is there for. In some cases, people are riding in memory of someone, but in most cases they're riding in honor of someone and helping the survivors live longer," Kiner said. "It was a very emotional time with me to be riding with both my girls. It was the first time we all rode together."
Just prior to the start of the ride is the opening ceremony, in which one butterfly is released for every participant who is battling or has survived cancer.
"It is a very positive atmosphere. It starts off on a serious but uplifting note because you're reminded of why you're there," Kiner said. "The entire ride you're being congratulated and encouraged to get up the next hill. Everybody is very supportive when you're out there at the course."
All riders have the option of how many miles they wish to tackle and may choose from rides of 10, 25, 50, 75 and 100 miles. In order to participate in a particular ride, team members must raise a specified amount of money. For example, adults and students must raise $500 and $250 in order to ride in the 10 or 25-mile challenge, respectively. For the 50, 75 or 100-mile challenge, adults and students must raise $750 and $375, respectively.
And while the ride itself is certainly an enjoyable event for everyone involved, participants make sure the focus is on the ride's purpose.
"When Jeff Keith and John Ragland started the bike ride, it was nothing more than a way to raise money to fund a cancer survivorship clinic at Yale Cancer Center. The intention was not to start a bike event company," said Bob Mazzone, the chief operating officer and event director. "Just as all of our riders and volunteers have a link to cancer, either personally or through friends or loved ones, so do our staff. We put our hearts and souls into the bike ride because the riders and volunteers deserve it for all the fundraising work they have done for us. It is their reward."
Mazzone added that most of the emphasis of the event is on the fundraising, and that the participants are more than happy to do everything they can to raise as much as they are able.
"What is special about the Connecticut Challenge is that everyone there has made the same significant commitment to raise money. We are very serious about that commitment," Mazzone said. "We know that our ride is not for everyone because of the required fundraising, but it has been gratifying to see the growth in numbers from people who care so much about the cause that they want to do the fundraising."
New Canaan's John Murphy opted to take on the 100-mile course, dubbed "New England's Toughest Century."
"Like so many other people, I have seen the effects of cancer with family members and close friends. I think it is important to be proactive when it comes to their health and helping others, and there are many ways to make a difference," Murphy said. "The CT Challenge is a great way to set a goal, both fundraising and ride distance, and then take on that challenge."
Team Darien-New Canaan, which is made up of 19 members, has four cancer survivors (Kiner, Luke Whittaker, Mimi Griffith and Diane Hanauer). The other 15 members are Murphy, Corby Hocker, Scott Logie, Nathan Whittaker, Martin Whittaker, Christopher Price, Chase Jansen, Lauren Jansen, Tracee Jansen, Sammee Mazzone, Kasey Mazzone, Rosemary Fitzgerald, Maya Owainati, Henry Owainati and David Jacobsen.
To date, Team Darien-New Canaan has raised $27,898 with a target goal of $40,000. To make a donation, visit www.2012ctchallenge.kintera.org/darien-newcanaan. Donations for this year's fundraiser will be accepted until the end of September.
As Kiner put it, the ride has "grown by leaps and bounds" since its humble beginnings in 2005, when 200 riders raised just over $300,000. This year, a total of 1,110 riders (including 132 cancer survivors) raised $1,018,544.
"It's grown by leaps and bounds and every year it gets bigger and bigger. People recognize what they're doing and the need for what they're doing," Kiner said. "It brings awareness to cancer survivors and it lets people know that it's not just about surviving the disease, but also the cure."