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A decade of reflection on riding a bicycle across New York State

This is a group photo of riders in Niagara Falls from the first ESR.

Written by Terry Bourgeois, Empire State Ride Founder

It was never about the ride.

Reflecting on the past decade of riding across New York State for cancer research, a rush of memories floods my mind, and my eyes well with tears. It has been a journey of dedication, resilience and hope for hundreds of road warriors. Over the years, I’ve witnessed the growth of the Empire State Ride (ESR) experience and the evolution of cancer care and research. Here are some reflections on the past, the progress we’ve made and the promising future ahead thanks to work being done at Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center.

The Growth Over the Last 10 Years

Riders at sunset on ESR
Terry, Maria and friends at the finish line at ESR.

Looking back, it’s incredible to see how much ESR has grown. What started as a crazy idea to generate funding for cancer research on my solo ride in 2014 has transformed into a cycling event with a global reach. The number of participants, sponsors and supporters has soared, creating a community united by a common goal of advancing cancer research. The financial support generated through these rides has been instrumental in funding groundbreaking studies, clinical trials and innovative treatments.

You will hear me frequently say that the immense joy I get from the Empire State Ride is not solely the funds we raise for cancer research; it is the change it made in my life and the lives of others. The personal growth that occurs during ESR has infinite possibilities for the legacies of our riders. The fact that we are also providing critical funding to make cancer treatments less invasive and less toxic is our common why, but the outcome is far more than that.

There are two significant moments when ESR changed my life.

The first occurred at the beginning of my first solo ride across New York State. Following a series of mishaps, that first day seemed like a disaster as I rolled into camp. When a woman in an adjacent campsite asked what I was doing, I shared with her my vision of creating ESR to provide funding for cancer research. As it turned out, her sister was at the campsite for an extended stay while receiving treatment at a local cancer center, and her sister’s husband was also fighting prostate cancer.  It was an emotional evening that cemented why I needed to keep going.

The second transformation occurred during that first solo ride on Day 4. More challenges presented themselves, and I was struggling after only 20 miles of strong headwinds. I pulled over to a park bench along the side of a trail just outside of Albany and took out some cards with the names of the people I was riding for. Tears started falling and I broke down. As I got back on my bike, words from The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle came to mind. It helped bring my awareness to my surroundings — the bees pollinating the flowers, birds flying above and the beauty of nature. This was the final building block that allowed me to dig deep and push onward to share this experience with others.  

That solo ride gave me the resolve to turn a vision into a reality through our fantastic team that works tirelessly to keep it healthy and growing.

How far we've come

So, here we are: the 10th anniversary. We went from one to sixty riders to more than 100 riders. Now, we have nearly 300 hundred riders joining this adventure annually. We’ve hope to reach $10 million raised for cancer research for the 10th anniversary, and I have never been more hopeful about the future we are creating because of the work at Roswell Park.

Today, because of the quality of solutions and ideas, Roswell Park can now leverage $23 dollars for every dollar donated. This is incredible and speaks to the respected quality of research at Roswell Park.

Roswell Park’s commitment to translating research into real-world applications has improved outcomes for countless patients. Developing targeted therapies, immunotherapies and precision medicine has reshaped the landscape of cancer care. These treatments, tailored to the unique characteristics of each patient’s cancer, have improved efficacy while minimizing side effects, marking a significant leap forward in the fight to end cancer.

Looking ahead, the future of ESR is closely intertwined with cutting-edge research, including the pioneering work on next-generation CAR T-cell therapies by Dr. Renier Brentjens and his team at Roswell Park.

As I reflect on a decade of riding across New York State for cancer research, I am filled with gratitude, hope and a renewed sense of purpose. The growth we’ve witnessed, both in the ESR community and the field of cancer research, is a testament to the power of collective action. With the beacon of innovation at Roswell Park guiding us, the future is bright. 

Together, as we pedal forward, we contribute to advancing cancer care and realizing a future where cancer is no longer an insurmountable challenge. We ride for progress, for hope and for a world free from cancer.

Sincerely,

Terry Bourgeois, ESR Founder

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