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Meet the Long Island Rough Riders

Meet the Long Island Rough Riders, a top fundraising team for Empire State Ride.
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On Empire State Ride, you’re never alone in the mission to end cancer. That feeling is amplified when you ride with a team.

The Long Island Rough Riders have consistently been one of the top fundraising teams at Empire State Ride (ESR). Still, members say they’re defined not solely by the dollars they raise but also by the family they’ve created.

“All skill levels are welcome. It’s not a race. We all finish together. We ride together. We look out for each other,” said Steve Mars, co-chair of ESR and longtime member of the Long Island Rough Riders.

Fellow rider Steve Wasserman added, “This group of about twenty is made up of some very special people who have ridden this ride and have helped raise funds for anywhere from two to nine years. It’s an astonishing group with a common bond.”

While each of their reasons for riding is personal, the Long Island Rough Riders all come together for one shared purpose: raising funds for critical cancer research.

The Team’s Early Days

Like many first-time riders, when Mars signed up for ESR, he didn’t know anyone else on the adventure. He was a mountain biker and had never taken on a ride quite like this one.

Mars explained, “I signed up for this as a way to honor my mother and others impacted by cancer, and I thought it would be a one-off. I bought a road bike and learned how to clip into the pedals. I trained by myself and learned a lot about cycling and then I went on the ride, and I realized what an incredible life-changing experience it is.”

That “one-off” ride turned into eight ESRs, going on nine. He credits the decision to come back each year largely to the people he met along the way — like Richard Noll, John Downey, John Arfman, Mike Simms and Alan Kurtz the founding members of the Long Island Rough Riders.

“It’s interesting because I met and bonded with amazing friends who live in surrounding towns on Empire State Ride. I had to ride across the state to meet people who live one town north or one town south,” said Mars.

The name ‘Rough Riders’ is inspired by Teddy Roosevelt, who has strong ties to Long Island and is also a source of influence for ESR Founder Terry Bourgeois.

Over the years, the Rough Riders have continued to welcome new members from a variety of backgrounds and experience levels.

Riders on the Long Island Rough Riders
Group photo of the Long Island Rough Riders

Why Ride with a Team?

Regardless of your why for participating in ESR, being a part of the community is likely a perk of the decision, if not a draw. By riding with a team, you’ll form that community faster.

Wasserman learned that firsthand in 2023.

He explained, “When I first signed up, I did not know anyone else doing the ride. I found out that there was a local group called the Long Island Rough Riders which I joined to help me in training and to answer questions that I had about the ride.”

The Rough Riders meet up for rides leading up to the weeklong event to help all ESR participants get in their training.

“The physical benefits of riding with a team obviously make the physical challenges a bit easier since you can share the work and take turns pulling along the long stretches of road,” said Noll, a veteran rider.

The preparation for ESR isn’t just about the physical ride, either. It also entails learning about fundraising, nutrition, hydration, teamwork and safety. That’s why having people to lean on before you even start the adventure can go a long way.

Group photo of the Long Island Rough Riders
Group photo of the Long Island Rough Riders
Group photo of the Long Island Rough Riders

Friendships Before, During and After ESR

No matter the road warrior, one theme seems to be reoccurring when riders talk about Empire State Ride: the bonds they make on the road.

“Our team is an amazing family of dedicated riders and fundraisers. Through ESR and the Rough Riders, I have found lifelong friends whom I can count on for so much more than cycling,” said Noll.

Mars, who is also a cancer survivor, agrees. When asked about the most impactful memories with his team, he shared a story that will stick with him forever.

“Coincidentally I had finished my radiation at the beginning of August and when I crossed the finish line on the 10th anniversary of completing my treatment, that was a moment for sure, and I grabbed a couple of close friends and told them,” Mars said as he began to tear up. “ESR is also the first place I raised my hand and said I was a survivor.”

In many ways, ESR provides a platform for people to share how cancer has impacted them, and it gives them an outlet to do something about it. Moments like the one Mars shared are part of what makes the connections formed on the road so special.

Noll added, “My brothers and sisters are always there for me in cycling and support me in every aspect of my life: business, emotionally and socially. I have met people who have faced true adversity and struggle and who have taught me how to persist and push myself further than I otherwise would think possible.”

After just one year on the road, Wasserman feels the same.

He said, “We all inspire and motivate each other for a common purpose to end cancer.”

Statewide and Worldwide Impact

It’s no secret that the Rough Riders are a team of dedicated and persistent fundraisers. They share their personal stories, lean on the resources provided by Roswell Park and educate themselves on where the funds go to better inform their donors.

“My initial why for partaking in the Empire State Ride was the physical challenge of the 560-mile journey. However, I learned about Roswell Park, the work being done and the amazing people involved. So, my why quickly changed and has grown over the last seven years to supporting an amazing organization that benefits all of us and our loved ones that battle cancer,” said Noll.

Over ten years of ESR, the event is on track to hit a collective $10 million raised for cancer research at Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center, which is America’s first cancer center dedicated to research. 

While Roswell Park is located in Buffalo, New York, the funds raised have a worldwide impact, and that includes downstate on Long Island.

Mars explained, “They have a cancer care network that partners with hospitals across the state, and the innovative research is shared with all the major cancer centers in the U.S. To know that the breakthroughs that are going on at Roswell Park are actually helping my neighbors, it’s one of the things that just keeps us moving forward and saying we’re going to beat this thing together.”

And as the Rough Riders gear up for the tenth anniversary of ESR, they reflect on the impact their team has made over the years: a journey that started with a few riders from Long Island, that’s grown into a family with ties all over the country.