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ESR rider spotlight: Maria Thor

Why this year’s ride matters more than ever

For 59-year-old Maria Thor, enjoying nature, being surrounded by loved ones and taking care of her health are three of life’s greatest blessings. She cycles six days a week and adds an hour of weights whenever possible as part of her training for Empire State Ride, which she has proudly done every year since 2017. She rides to honor her parents who both lost their battles to cancer.

Through everything, Maria’s strong faith sees her through life’s ups and downs. In recent years, this faith has become more important than ever as she’s been faced with new challenges.

Early warning signs

In February 2021, Maria was diagnosed with dyslexia, a condition that affects how she processes written language. The diagnosis shed light on the struggles Maria faced throughout her life. Armed with a new perspective, she set out to learn how to navigate her condition by spending time with a specialist in New York City. It was during training that she started to notice something in her stomach didn’t feel right. 

“I know my body so well, and that’s really important,” Maria says. “I always stress that if there’s something wrong, you should go to the doctor.”

And she did. She called her doctor right away and had an appointment as soon as she returned home in November. After a sonogram and a CT scan, she received a phone call that no one ever wants to receive.

“I’ll never forget it. I was riding my bicycle when the doctor called and said I had a fatty mass. I almost fell off my bike.”

On November 22, Maria’s diagnosis came back: Leiomyosarcoma, a rare cancer that grows in the smooth muscles.

Maria Thor-020822-070

Alongside her niece, Rebecca, close friend, Terry, and the staff at Roswell Park, Maria started chemotherapy. For each round of treatment, she stays at the hospital for days at a time, hooked up to an infusion pump on an IV stand that Rebecca has fondly named Wanda. Despite any limitations, Maria completes three miles, or about 99 laps around her floor, with Wanda in tow.

Not all days are good, but she does what she can to keep herself moving. That includes participating in her sixth Empire State Ride.

“It’s in God’s hands what I’m going to be able to do this year [at ESR],” Maria says. “If it’s just a mile, I’ll do a mile. But I will be at the Empire State Ride, heck or high water, sleeping in a tent and joining everybody in celebration.”



Remembering her first ride

Maria’s journey makes raising funds to end cancer more important than ever.  She thinks back to her first Empire State Ride in 2017 and remembers not knowing what to expect. A self-declared “Holiday Inn girl,” she avoided camping for most of her life and had limited experience with distance cycling.

“I really had no idea how to ride my bicycle. I just rode,” she said. “It’s a game — getting the rest, taking the supplements you need, drinking water every 10 minutes, finding a support group to cheer you on. That first year, you really learn.”

As she prepares to embark on her sixth Empire State Ride with her team, GBY9 (“God Bless You” followed by her parents’ favorite number), she looks forward to doing what she can on her bike and cheering everybody else on. Like years past, she’ll stop when she sees a penny or quarter and pocket what she calls her “wings from heaven.” Later, she’ll add the coins to her fundraising total.

Most importantly, Maria will keep a list of people who have donated to her fundraiser and send them prayers from the road. They’re part of her team, and she can say firsthand that what they’re doing makes a difference in the lives of patients like her.

“Your whole life changes in a blink when you hear the words, ‘You have cancer,’” she said. “You don’t take anything for granted.”

That, Maria says, is reason enough to keep moving.

Join Maria at this year’s Empire State Ride.