During the toughest parts of his long, solitary ride from New York City to Niagara Falls, Terry Bourgeois focused on each simple moment.
He noticed the beauty of the trees around him. He felt gratitude for his family who followed him on the journey. Although exhausted at times, he appreciated each turn of the bike pedal that kept him going.
And he remembered why he started this ride in the first place: To raise money for Roswell Park Cancer Institute. He thought about the names on the honor cards he carried, all people touched by cancer.
“What really got me through all of those hours was actually just starting to pay attention to the beauty that was around me at any given moment,” Bourgeois wrote in a blog post about his journey. “I guess I was getting another life lesson about living in the moment and cherishing every bit of life that was surrounding me. The distance between me and the end of the day or tomorrow did not really matter; what mattered was that my crank made another revolution.”
Bourgeois has been a longtime participant in the Ride for Roswell, the institute’s fundraising event that each year brings together thousands of cyclists to raise money for its programs. Bourgeois first got involved with the ride as a participant in 1999.
He was struck by the stories of people who had been touched by cancer all around him. Several people in his own family, including two uncles and a grandmother, also had battled cancer.
“I realized the significance of this disease, and it really grabbed me,” said Bourgeois, who served in the military. “At that time I realized that this is the biggest war we’ll ever face. And it’s all around us.”
Ultimately, Bourgeois became a co-chairman of the fundraiser. He also wrote a children’s book, the proceeds from which he donates to Roswell.
“Terry has been an incredible champion for Roswell Park Cancer Institute and the Ride for Roswell, carrying our mission with him wherever he goes,” said Cindy Eller, executive director of the Roswell Park Alliance Foundation.
This year Bourgeois decided to take his effort a step further with the bike ride across the state. His ride raised about $8,000, which he would like to see go to the research of vaccines for brain tumors and ovarian cancer, as well as a genetic test for lung cancer.
The Lockport native started the trip May 18 in the shadows of the Statue of Liberty in New York City. He arrived on Goat Island near the American side of the falls on Saturday afternoon. In all, he biked about 540 miles. Family members and friends in an RV followed him.
“I choose to do this ride in support of the Ride for Roswell because of its symbolic elements, including the Statue of Liberty as an incredible icon of hope for thousands throughout our country’s existence, and Niagara Falls, which has inspired millions of visitors,” he wrote.
The importance of his effort was reinforced along the way, particularly during one stop at a campsite where he met a woman who was going through cancer treatment. Her husband had been diagnosed four months before she was.
“It was extremely rewarding and emotional to sit with her at the campfire talking with her about their fight and giving her some encouragement,” he said. “It really does give you a sense of true belief and hope that we’re making progress.”
This year’s Ride for Roswell will begin with an opening ceremony June 27. The ride on June 28 is expected to draw more than 10,000 riders, volunteers and supporters.
In the past 19 years the event has raised $25 million for research and programs at Roswell Park.