Meet the Regulators
Each Empire State Ride road warrior who tackles the adventure in July hopes to glean something different from riding their bike 500+ miles across New York State. For those on Team Regulators, it comes down to raising funds for cancer research and having fun while doing it.
“We’re just a band of misfits,” said Josh Lundquist, a founding member of the Regulators. “We’re all the non-super-serious cyclists who go to have a good time. We goof around; we pick on each other. It’s all in good fun to get your mind off some of the daunting hills and long days. Through that, we’ve made lifelong friends.”
The Regulators, led by 2024 team captain Amy Flynn, has become one of Empire State Ride’s largest teams, with 16 cyclists on last year’s roster. The growth can be attributed to a variety of factors, but one comes up time and time again: “picking up strays,” a term they use endearingly.
As a no-drop group, the Regulators often quote the Disney classic Lilo and Stitch as they pick up riders in need of motivation, making sure that nobody gets left behind or forgotten. Why? Because that’s what family does, and through the years, the Regulators have become just that: family. They do their best to make sure cyclists who take on the adventure solo or fall behind their group aren’t alone. As long as riders don’t mind the banter, they have a place with the Regulators.
“We come in last for two reasons. One: Because it’s not a race, and we want to have fun and enjoy every single mile that we’re out there. Two: We really don’t leave anyone behind,” said Shelley Unocic, a long-time member of the Regulators. “You ride as fast as the slowest person who’s going to stay in that group with you.”
Riding with Purpose
The Regulators often joke that they aren’t the fastest team (often self-declared dead last), but they have grit and a fierce passion for riding to end cancer. In fact, their team was the third top team last year, raising more than $106K for cancer research at Roswell Park and beyond.
For Shelley, being a part of the Empire State Ride movement is a chance to make a lasting difference in the mission to end cancer.
One fact that motivates her, in particular, is that for every dollar donated to ESR, Roswell Park is able to leverage an additional $23 from external grants toward cancer research. That means donations have a huge impact on the future of cancer care, paving the way for innovative new treatment options.
Shelley has helped the Regulators become a fundraising powerhouse with her unique ideas, unbeatable drive and passion for the cause. Not only do these riders stay in contact year-round, but they fundraise together. The Regulators have found great success in unique fundraising methods like hosting a hockey tournament, working concessions at the Buffalo Bills games and encouraging riders to use their unique talents for the cause.
“We fundraise together as a team, and it makes life easier,” Josh says.
How Josh Got Started on the Regulators
Like so many riders, the cancer cause is highly personal to each member of the Regulators. For Josh, ESR first became a thought when he saw an ad during a Buffalo Sabres game.
“I said to my friend Mike, ‘Listen, when I’m fully recovered, we’re going to do this.’ And he looked at me and goes, ‘Are you serious?’”
Josh was serious. At that time, he was battling a rare form of testicular cancer, a diagnosis he received after dealing with continued kidney pain. In the emergency room, he learned he had a tumor the size of a softball that wrapped around his aorta, vena cava and the ureter to his left kidney.
Josh explained that his particular type of cancer doubles in size every 11 days. To stop the progression, he went through six rounds of chemo over the course of about four months and had his kidney removed.
“I had my last treatment on Christmas Eve. The next Friday, I put my ice skates back on and played hockey. I just wasn’t going to let cancer take me away from me.”
Not long after, he and Mike, his friend of 20 years, signed up for ESR together. They’ve been an integral part of the ESR community ever since.
Shelley’s Inspiration for Riding
When Shelley Unocic first heard of ESR, she doubted whether or not she had what it took to ride 500+ miles across New York State. She questioned, “I was in my mid-40s. I am not an athlete. I’m just an average mom.” Soon she would learn, she is anything but average.
She mustered up the courage in 2020 to sign up. She was ready for the experience of a lifetime. Then, COVID-19 hit, and the ride she had envisioned was no longer an option. Still, that didn’t keep her from raising money and putting in the miles. She took part in the Hometown Challenge that year, and in 2021, she was finally able to get the full seven-day ESR experience.
“It was life changing. I thought I was one and done, and now I’m in year five and will probably ride ESR until I can’t ride my bike anymore,” said Shelley.
Like so many ESR road warriors, Shelley too has a connection to the cancer cause.
“My father-in-law passed away from esophageal cancer. By the time he had been diagnosed, it was stage 4. They gave him two months to two years to live. He lasted 12 months, and it was eleven months of hell.”
While her efforts through ESR couldn’t have saved her father-in-law, she knows that being a part of this movement is changing the future of cancer care … and that keeps her going.
ESR’s 10th Anniversary
2024 marks 10 years of ESR. When asked if they’d be there for the milestone, neither Josh or Shelley hesitated.
“I wouldn’t miss it for the world. ESR has become a staple in our life,” said Josh. “We rode with Terry when we found out we hit $1 million for cancer research. That kind of stuck with me, and I want to be there for when we hit the next milestone and the next milestone.”
Shelley added, “The 10th anniversary just speaks volumes to Terry’s vision and how far it’s come. The fact that so many of us have been able to be on that journey for so many years and get it to where it is, is a special feeling. I tell people this event is a life-changing event. It certainly changed my life.”