Residents from New Canaan, Darien and seemingly everywhere else in Connecticut and beyond will participate in the ninth annual CT Bike Ride Challenge in Norwalk at the Fairfield County Hunt Club in Westport July 26-27.
But instead of competing for an FCIAC championship -- or simply town pride -- New Canaan and Darien will team up to raise money for the treatment and prevention of cancer, as well as to "help cancer survivors live healthier, happier, and longer lives."
"There are over 170,000 cancer survivors in Connecticut and more than 13 million in the U.S. Thankfully, more than 67 percent of those diagnosed with cancer will survive, but most don't realize that managing what comes after cancer treatment can often be just as difficult, including a lifetime of late effects of treatment, risk of recurrence and other diseases," said Darien's Jeff Keith, founder of the CT Challenge and a cancer survivor himself.
Bob Mazzone, Darien resident and COO of the CT Challenge, has participated every year since the second ride back in 2006 and has seen the program grow by leaps and bounds over that time span.
"The trajectory has been generally in the upward direction, which is great. Obviously, (the large amount of participation) is very deeply appreciated," said Mazzone, who estimated that 15 or 16 states were represented last year, as well as 70 towns in Connecticut. "It's very gratifying that people take to this cause the way we take to this cause. Everybody that works for this organization is so totally dedicated to the cause. A bike rider is one thing; a bike rider who is infused by the cause is the most valuable."
Mazzone predicted that this year's numbers will be even greater.
Among the CT Challenge's largest accomplishments to date was the opening of the CT Challenge Center for Survivorship, located in Southport, which opened in October of 2012.
"This is not some national organization where you don't know where your donations go. The CT Challenge is putting donations to work in programs that you can see and touch," said New Canaan's John Murphy, who has participated all nine years. "You can take your friends and family to actual programs, you can call and ask for advice and counsel and you can talk with the founders about specific ideas you have to help more people."
To date, over $9 million has been raised to fund programs for cancer survivors.
"I don't ride for just one person. I ride for so many people, family and friends, who have been touched by cancer," Murphy said. "I have been involved with many other cancer-related charity events, but I've found that the CT Challenge is such an incredible organization that is so focused on providing direct support and resources for survivors."
Participants in the CT Challenge have the option to ride individually or as a team and are required to raise a certain amount of money, depending on how many miles they plan to ride. The more miles a participant plans to ride (they have the option of 10, 25, 50, 75 and 100 miles), the more money they must raise.
Darien resident Mimi Griffith, a second-year participant, has been hit particularly hard by cancer. She is herself a survivor, but she lost three friends to the disease. Griffith opted for the 25-mile ride last year, but she's going for 50 in 2013.
"I imagine it'll be bigger this year. It depends on factors we don't control like the weather. The Challenge has opened its Southport center for cancer survivors," Griffith said. "It was a long-time dream and goal of the organization. I've been to spin classes there, and I've been meaning to go to a yoga class. It's wonderful for people who have physical limitations."
2013 also marks the inaugural two-day ride option.
"What riders don't realize is how important they are," Mazzone said. "The bike ride for the most part is the full funding source for what we do."
Griffith, who rode with fellow cancer survivor Kim Kiner from Darien last year, indicated that the experience was "overwhelming."
"Kim had tried to give me a sense ahead of time. It was really kind of overwhelming," Griffith said. "It was very joyous, festive, positive and it was really a lot of fun. It's great to have 6 to 90-year-olds."
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