Cyclists ready to roll against cancer

BY AIDAN GRAHAM | More than 180 cyclists will don spandex and hit the saddle for a daunting seven-day cycling journey from Staten Island to Niagara Falls on Sun., July 28, in a race to fight an even more grueling challenge — cancer.

The 540-mile annual Empire State Ride was conceived in 2014 by Terry Bourgeois to raise funds for cancer research — and has grown exponentially since his inaugural ride, he said.

“Every year, this ride brings its participants an experience that will stay with them the rest of their lives,” Bourgeois said. “We keep saying it’s a ride cyclists must try once in their lives, but the impact — on you and on cancer — increases exponentially the more you do it.”

First-time Empire State Rider Sari Schorr gears up for the seven-day journey across New York State, starting July 28. (Courtesy Empire State Ride)

This year, organizers hope to raise more than $1 million from riders and sponsors — which will go to supporting cutting-edge cancer research at Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center in Buffalo, according to the organization.

Riders push themselves to the physical limits during the exhausting cross-state cycling trek, but find inspiration to keep pedaling from those who have conquered cancer, according to one rider who will make his second voyage this year.

“The idea of what they’ve gone through — this ride is nothing compared to hours of chemotherapy,” said Brooklynite Phil Zodda. “I’m not a cancer survivor, but when you’re riding side by side with someone who has gone through that, you can’t feel bad for yourself — those mountains flatten out.”

After their days exhaustive filled with nonstop riding, cyclists will make six overnight stops along the meticulously planned route at campgrounds in the Hudson Valley, Albany, Utica, Syracuse and Rochester until they reach the waterfall wonder of the world on Aug. 3.
“It’s really more of an adventure as opposed to a race,” Zodda said. “It’s long and difficult, but I found it to be extremely rewarding.”

Each night features a cancer-survivor speaker who inspires their fellow riders with their stories and speaks of the importance of raising funds to combat the disease — which claims the lives of around 600,000 Americans each year, according to government statistics.

“Cancer can hit closer to home than we like,” said second-year rider Scott Cohen from Fresh Meadows, Queens. “I’ve battled several health issues for many years, including a bout of skin cancer… . I’ve lost several family members, and have friends that have and are fighting cancer.”

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