Nine-year-old Jenna Stroud of Cheektowaga rode for her teenage brother, to whom she donated her bone marrow when she was 7. Debbie Rogers of North Tonawanda rode for her Uncle Nathan, who died of pancreatic cancer last year.
James Woodrow of Buffalo couldn’t afford the registration fee, so he volunteered to honor his mother, who died of lung cancer in 1997. Tom Thompson of Clarence cheers from the side of the road every year, but this year was different – his father-in-law recently died of lung cancer.
They were just four examples of more than 8,000 riders, 2,000 volunteers and countless supporters who filled the 18th annual Ride for Roswell to capacity on Saturday morning.
Cyclists of all ages and skill levels came to the University at Buffalo’s North Campus from 37 states and five countries to raise more than $3.8 million for cancer research, patient-care programs and pediatric cancer care at Roswell Park Cancer Institute. They had their choice of 10 different routes, ranging from three miles to more than 100 miles. They relied on family, friends and strangers to donate to the cause as the race drew near.
Before each segment began, riders paused for a moment of silence and reflected on why they were riding.
“The ride is more than a fundraiser,” said Leslie Garrity, a spokesperson for Roswell Park Alliance Foundation, who volunteered on Saturday. “It is an outlet for people in our community to connect, show their Buffalo pride and fight back because their lives have been forever changed by cancer.”
Jenna, the bone-marrow donor, joined 25 others in wearing bright orange “Team Matthew” T-shirts that commemorated her brother Matthew, 18, who was diagnosed with chronic myelogenous leukemia when he was 14 – and survives.
Jenna rode on the back of a three-wheeled, two-seat bicycle, with her mother, Jodi, in the front seat, and Matthew riding alongside them. Jodi said the team raised more than $6,000 this year, their fourth consecutive ride. They view the event as a way to give back to Roswell, which is where Matthew was treated.
“The doctors were great, the nurses were great,” Matthew said. “They were really helpful.”
Thompson stood beside the starting line at 9 a.m. as the 30-mile race began. “Thank-you, riders!” he shouted as they went by, with music blaring in the background. “Thank you!”
It was Thompson’s sixth consecutive Ride for Roswell. He has always enjoyed supporting a positive cause and spreading awareness about Elly’s Angels, a support organization for young women in Western New York founded in memory of Elly Kausner, who perished on Flight 3407 in 2009. But after his father-in-law recently died of lung cancer, this year’s event took on added significance.
“It’s a little bit closer to home this year,” Thompson said. “Cancer affects everybody.”
The races attracted casual riders and serious cyclists alike. Tim Klein of Orchard Park trekked 104 miles for the second straight year, biking as far east as Akron and as far north as Lake Ontario before returning to UB. It was his fourth Ride for Roswell – for each of his first two years, Klein opted for the 62.5-mile course. But he was quick to deflect praise to the volunteers.
“The volunteers on the side of the road, they’re screaming and thanking us for riding,” he said. “And all we’re doing is riding our bikes.”
Klein rode for Mallory Nischan of Nashville, who received his bone marrow in 2008 after he signed up to donate. He didn’t meet her until after the procedure, but they have stayed in touch ever since. He also rode this year for his old coach, Bob Barrows, the longtime Orchard Park baseball coach who was recently diagnosed with cancer.
Woodrow, the Buffalo volunteer, lost his mother to lung cancer 16 years ago. “I know what it can do,” he said.
Woodrow loves bikes and wanted to ride in the race this year, but he couldn’t save enough from his job at Tops Markets to pay the $150 registration fee. So he signed up to volunteer and worked security, helping keep a side road clear in case of a medical emergency. Though he wasn’t riding, he was still making a difference.
“It’s important to feel like you’re part of something,” he said.