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Coach Charlie Livermore: Riding in hilly terrain

By Coach Charlie Livermore

Empire State Ride is lucky to have the support of professional cycling coach Charlie Livermore as an advisor and friend. Charlie is not only a coach at Carmichael Training Systems, but he also serves as a training consultant on our adventure across New York State. He offers his expertise and tips to all ESR riders and joins us on the road each July to ride 500+ miles.  

This year’s Empire State Ride courses will give us some options to ride hills on open roads. Personally, this is my favorite type of terrain to ride, and it can be yours as well if you develop and apply this technique. If you do it right, you’ll feel a sense of flow as you use the hills to your advantage. Otherwise, it could feel like you can never get a good steady rhythm — like every hill is punishing you.

The method of riding hills that I’m about to walk you through is best used for long, steady endurance rides like Empire State Ride. If you’re racing or trying to split the field in a competitive group ride, this won’t do it. In fact, this method is designed to keep a group together at a good, steady pace.

So, let’s break it down.

In Figure 1 below, you can see that there are seven sections to our hill.

Charlie Livermore graph

The Approach

As you approach the hill, keep your speed steady all the way to the bottom. Do not slow
down or shift to a lighter gear until you’re actually on the climb. This is the first mistake most cyclists make. Slowing down in anticipation of having to make a hard effort only makes the effort harder. The more speed (momentum) you carry onto the hill, the better.

The Start of the Climb

Here’s where you have to get it right. Do not start too fast! Let the slope of the hill naturally slow you down to a comfortable pace you can sustain all the way to the top. Find the right gear, keep your breathing steady and be patient.

The Middle Section

At this point you’ve found your sustainable speed and comfort zone. You should still be able to talk at this intensity. Keep it nice and easy here and don’t accelerate… yet!

Riders at ESR

The Top of the Hill

Here’s where the magic happens. The top of the hill is not the place to recover. If you need to recover from your effort at this point, you went too hard on the way up. This is the place where you should be slowly increasing your speed rather than decreasing it. Your highest speed on the hill should be going over the top of it, not at the bottom or middle sections of the climb.

The First Downward Slope

If you gauged your effort correctly, you should be able to shift into a bigger gear, accelerate (not a sprint), establish the speed you are comfortable descending at and then recover from your climbing effort as the gravity of the backside of the hill keeps your speed high. Depending on the grade, you might be able to coast down without losing speed. If the grade isn’t steep, you may need to soft pedal to keep the speed as high as possible toward the next flat section.

The Approach to the Next Hill

In this section, use the momentum from the downhill to keep your pace as high as you can. Here, it’s more about not slowing down too much vs. speeding up. You want as much momentum as possible going into the next hill without overexerting yourself.

During this entire cycle, your rate of perceived exertion should be about 5-7, at the most, on a scale of 10. You should not be in oxygen debt (breathing heavy) and your legs should not feel very acidic. If you are, try slowing down at the beginning of the next climb to find the pace that’s right for you.

Common Mistakes to Avoid

  • Shifting to a lighter gear before you start the climb. If you’re in the right gear on the flat approach to the climb, don’t shift to a lighter gear until you’re actually on the climb.
  • Accelerating at the start of the climb. Starting too fast is the worst mistake you can make on a climb. Better to start slower and finish faster.
  • Resting/slowing down at the top. The rest point is 20-30 feet after the crest of the hill. If you have to rest at the top, you went too hard on the climb.
  • Not using the first downward slope at the top to accelerate. The first 20-30 feet of descent is for accelerating. This is where you get the most speed for the least amount of energy expenditure. Again, if you can’t accelerate here, you went too hard on the climb.

Practice this technique on your next training rides these last couple of weeks before Empire State Ride, and you’ll see why it makes hills seem easier to ride and way more fun.

Can’t wait to see you all soon!

Coach Charlie

Team Roswell takes on Empire State Ride

Employees at Roswell Park serve cancer patients every day, but their commitment to the cause doesn’t stop there. Get to know these employees who are doing their part in the mission to end cancer by participating in the 2024 Empire State Ride.

Renier Brentjens — MD, PhD

Renier Brentjens


Deputy Director and the Katherine Anne Gioia Endowed Chair in Cancer Medicine at Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center

Years doing Empire State Ride:

First year

Your ‘why’ for becoming an ESR road warrior:

As the Deputy Director and Chair of Medicine at Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center for the last two years, we are highly dependent upon philanthropic funding to conduct our innovative research, which will ultimately enhance our ability to improve the outcomes and survival of patients at Roswell Park and beyond.  On the 10th anniversary of the Empire State Ride, my college friend from England, Richard Fulham, and I will participate in the Empire State Ride and ride 500-mile bicycle ride across New York State over seven days to move novel cancer therapies forward.

Describe ESR in one word:


Megan Crawford

Megan Crawford --Team Roswell


Courage of Carly Program Coordinator

Years doing Empire State Ride:


Your ‘why’ for becoming an ESR road warrior:

Each mile I pedal is a tribute to the strength and resilience of those battling cancer, especially the children and families I serve through my work with the Courage of Carly Fund, and to my uncle Jerry, who courageously battled colorectal cancer. I ride for them and for a world where no parent loses a child and no child loses a parent to cancer.

Message to a new rider:

Don’t doubt your ability to participate. You don’t truly know what you’re capable of until you try.

Describe ESR in one word:


Michael Duff MD


Senior Network Systems Specialist

Years doing Empire State Ride:


Your ‘why’ for becoming an ESR road warrior:

I ride for those who are in the battle now and for those who will enter the battle in the future. I ride to enable research to continue until we defeat cancer.

Message to a new rider:

Ride Safe! Ride Strong! Ride for Roswell!

Describe ESR in one word:


Kara Eaton — MA, CPXP

Kara Eaton -- Team Roswell


Executive Director Patient and Family Experience

Years doing Empire State Ride:


Your ‘why’ for becoming an ESR road warrior:

I was in the first ESR in 2015 and back then it was a way to challenge myself physically and mentally as well as support the mission of Roswell Park. I’ve been at Roswell Park for over 16 years and have met so many amazing patients and families. This year my ride is in memory of all the inspiring patients I meet on a daily basis. On a personal level, this ride is especially in honor of my late father who passed from lung cancer two years ago, and my late husband who passed away when I was on the first ESR.

Message to a new rider:

Stay strong stay motivated and keep riding with a purpose.

Describe ESR in one word:


Patrick Emmerling — PhD, MBA, CLP


Director, Office of Technology Transfer and Commercial Development

Years doing Empire State Ride:


Your ‘why’ for becoming an ESR road warrior:

I ride for my family members and friends who have/continue to fight cancer.

Message to a new rider:

Enjoy the ride! While challenging, the ESR is an amazing experience. You get to see the beauty of NYS from the seat of your bike and ride with some truly special individuals.

Describe ESR in one word:


Julia Faller — DO, MS


Chief Medical Officer

Years doing Empire State Ride:


Your ‘why’ for becoming an ESR road warrior:

I participate in the Empire State Ride because I deeply believe in the important work of Roswell Park and the Alliance Foundation. The funds we raise through this ride go directly towards cancer research, which is crucial for finding new treatments and, hopefully one day, a cure. Cancer affects so many of us in various ways, and by supporting these organizations, I feel like I’m contributing to a cause that truly matters. This ride is not only about cycling; it’s about coming together to make a meaningful impact in the fight against cancer.

Message to a new rider:

Congratulations on making the commitment to ride. This is a warm and welcoming community. You will be forever changed by this experience. 

Describe ESR in one word:


Ryan Grady — CPA

Ryan Grady -- Team Roswell


Chief Financial Officer

Years doing Empire State Ride:


Your ‘why’ for becoming an ESR road warrior:

I ride for those who can’t!

Message to a new rider:

If I can do it, you can do it!

Describe ESR in one word:


Eileen Healy


Clinical Research Quality Assurance Coordinator

Years doing Empire State Ride:


Your ‘why’ for becoming an ESR road warrior:

On both a personal and professional level, I see the toll cancer takes. I began working at Roswell Park in 1993, and have seen the incredible advances made since then due to the research taking place right here at Roswell. But there is so much more to do. I have worked with clinical trial patients as young as two months old and as old as 85 years old. I have also had loved ones who were patients at Roswell Park. There have been plenty of victories, but too often I have seen the permanent heartbreak that cancer leaves in its wake. We are not done yet in the fight against cancer!

Message to a new rider:

To a new rider, I would say: believe in yourself. You really do have what it takes to do this!

Describe ESR in one word:


David Newman

David Newman -- Team Roswell


Executive Director of Capital Projects

Years doing Empire State Ride:


Your ‘why’ for becoming an ESR road warrior:

I ride to support the mission of Roswell Park. As an employee of Roswell Park, I manage the design and construction of capital projects. I find it incredibly rewarding that the projects I manage help to support researchers and physicians in fighting cancer and bringing treatment and care to patients, many of whom are my family and friends.

Message to a new rider:

Enjoy the ride and have fun doing the serious work of fundraising!

Describe ESR in one word:


Joyce Ohm PhD

Dr. Joyce Ohm dons a white Roswell Park lab coat in an office setting. She weighs in on ESR impact.


Department of Cancer Genetics and Genomics

Years doing Empire State Ride:


Your ‘why’ for becoming an ESR road warrior:

I ride in memory of my mom, who died in 1985 of a rare sarcoma, and for my friend’s son Josiah who died this past August at at 13 of osteosarcoma. It is devastating to me that for 40 years there has been so little improvement in treatment for these patients. Too many lives lost and too many hearts broken.

Message to a new rider:

Just enjoy the ride. ESR will give you what you need out of it – if you let it.

Describe ESR in one word:


Fr. Joe Porpiglia — MDiv


Chaplain at Roswell Park

Years doing Empire State Ride:


Your ‘why’ for becoming an ESR road warrior:

The community and the people you meet are always interesting and come from a variety of backgrounds. I have met some great people and heard very interesting stories. I have met people from my past who are a part of it and people from different parts of the country as well. I first started doing ESR because I thought it would be fun and interesting to do. I do it now for the community and wanting to raise money for cancer research.

Message to a new rider:

Pack as light as you can. There are a few rooms in hotels along the way but camping out is the best way. It is a supported ride so your tent and gear are moved for you. By staying in the tents you have more time to connect to people along the ride. One of my favorite things is taking the Staten Island Fairy into downtown NYC and then being able to ride through the city. Also, being able to ride along the Hudson and then being able to see different parts of New York State. The food that is provided is very good for the size of the group that is doing the ride. 

Describe ESR in one word:

Community or Challenge

Heather A. Ring

Heather Ring -- Team Roswell


Oncology Data Specialist II-Certified

Years doing Empire State Ride:


Your ‘why’ for becoming an ESR road warrior:

My “why” for doing Empire State Ride started with needing a new adventure and a new accomplishment in my life, while raising funds for cancer as it has affected my family and close friends.

Message to a new rider:

For new riders I would say, you can do anything you set your mind to. That first year I never thought I could do the entire ride, and I rode every mile! One pedal stroke at a time. It doesn’t matter how fast you are as long as you  get there in the end.

Describe ESR in one word:


Crystal Rodriguez-Dabney — Esq., LLM, CDP


SVP & Chief Diversity Officer

Years doing Empire State Ride:

This will be the first!

Your ‘why’ for becoming an ESR road warrior:

Cancer is an inclusive disease. It does not care who it attacks. But, it can have different impacts. Some of the stats are disturbing. I am taking on this challenge to help educate women from my communities on the benefits of early screening and detection and to highlight how Roswell is itself taking on the challenge to study these disparities and take cancer care into all communities!

Message to a new rider:

If you need a slow riding buddy, I’m your girl!! I am going to take each day one day at a time and my goal is just to finish!

Describe ESR in one word:


Gretchen Zimmerman RN

Gretchen Zimmerman -- Team Roswell


RN, MSHS Clinical Informatics Team

Years doing Empire State Ride:


Your ‘why’ for becoming an ESR road warrior:

This year marks my third Empire State Ride. My team and I pedal in support of Roswell Park and its crucial cancer research efforts, striving toward a future without this devastating disease. We ride not only for ourselves but for those who can’t.

Message to a new rider:

To new riders, I’d say, welcome to the Empire State Ride Family! You’re joining one of the most supportive groups of riders out there. And don’t forget about the incredible staff who make this journey possible for us each year.

Describe ESR in one word:


Holly Bowser — MBA, CMPE

Holly Bowser

How can you help?

You can help move our mission forward by donating to one of these Roswell Park employees or any other ESR rider! Rider fundraising pages will remain open until August 31.

Team Spotlight: Team Regan

Team Regan sign at the ESR finish line

If you ask Emily Regan and Colleen Regan-Kreuz, the team captains of Team Regan, they’d tell you something was pulling them to Empire State Ride long before they committed to the journey. This niece/aunt duo took on the adventure together in 2023 in memory of Larry Regan (Emily’s father and Colleen’s brother). They both reflected on the many signs pointing them to ESR after Larry’s passing, and the reminders along the route that he was with them each mile of the way.

A physical challenge + a week in the outdoors + a mission to end cancer = the perfect combination for the Regan family.

Emily Regan

Riding 500+ miles across New York State is a challenge for anyone, but ESR was far from the first physical challenge Emily has faced. In fact, Emily won an Olympic gold medal in the U.S. Women’s Eight in Rio in 2016 and holds four gold medals, a silver and a bronze in the World Championship competition. She was drawn to ESR primarily to honor her late father, Larry, but the idea of taking on a new adventure also compelled her.

“I rowed and that was all I did for a decade. And then prior to that, rowing was everything through college. I hadn’t been able to experience just pursuing other things that brought me joy.”

ESR has helped her find that sense of exploration and joy through outdoor cycling.

Colleen Regan-Kreuz

Physical fitness has always been important to Colleen, as well. She exercises regularly and is also a bit of a thrill chaser when it comes to a challenge. Colleen has completed triathlons and half Ironman events, and she saw ESR as the next big step. 

“The combination of the exercise, the fresh air, the beautiful scenery and the incredible people … it’s just an amazing experience.”

Signing up in memory of her late brother, Colleen wanted to make sure she could enjoy each day of the weeklong trek, so she followed Coach Charlie Livermore’s intermediate training plan in preparation.

Committing to Empire State Ride

The Regan family unofficially started Team Regan at the 2021 Turkey Trot, which took place Thanksgiving morning — less than two weeks before Larry’s death. Not long after, Colleen reached out to the whole family about establishing a Team Regan at Ride for Roswell, a one-day ride benefiting Roswell Park. It was on that ride that Colleen and Emily crossed paths with an ESR road warrior named Kristen Burgmaster who told them all about the experience.

Colleen said, “If Emily was going to do it, I had to do it. That was for sure, but we didn’t think the timing was going to be right last year. Then, on January 2, 2023, I went to Rebel Ride to take a spinning class and after the class, I saw a man with an Empire State Ride T-shirt on, so I started talking to him. Well, that man turned out to be Terry.”

Terry Bourgeois, the founder of ESR, happened to be working out with his now-wife Maria, a cancer survivor and longtime ESR rider. Colleen was there with her friend Amy Bryan. The four of them got to talking about ESR, and Terry and Maria invited Colleen and Amy to get together to learn more.

“We went to dinner and the very next day, Amy and I signed up,” said Colleen.

Emily followed not long after. Then, Colleen’s brother-in-law John McKeone did the same. Soon, they had a team of four riders.

Larry’s Cancer Diagnosis and Final Days

Cancer was not the first of Larry’s health struggles. He lived with polycystic kidney disease and received a transplant from his sister Maureen in the early 2000s.

“When you have a kidney transplant, you’re on immunosuppressants. My dad was fair, just like me, and there are medications that can make you extra sun sensitive. So, I think he started pretty early on having some squamous cell skin cancer and he’d go into the dermatologist, they’d cut it out. They’d look at it and that was a pretty long journey,” Emily explained.

Then, in March of 2020, at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, Larry went to his dermatologist to remove a cancer cell, a semi-regular occurrence for him. This time, though, it was different.

Emily added, “When they looked at it more closely under the microscope, they came back into the room and they told him that it was more serious, that it was a tumor connected to a nerve. So, he had surgery.”

Doctors were hopeful they got everything, and Larry began radiation that summer. The treatment was hard on him, but it afforded him time to be present with family. He attended his son’s wedding and a christening for one of his grandchildren. While things were looking up, a pet scan revealed devasting news that August.

Colleen will never forget the phone call she shared with her brother when he told her the prognosis. “He said that they didn’t know but they thought with the treatment that it could be three months to two years basically. I remember the day, like this can’t be,” she reflected with tears in her eyes.

Larry passed away in December of 2021. Both Colleen and Emily shared a piece of what they consider to be his last day.

Colleen went to visit Larry, as she did every day, alongside her husband, her sister and her brother-in-law.

“We all went over after church to say the rosary with him, which we did, and he also watched mass on TV. He was just cracking all these jokes. And he was very happy that day,” said Colleen. “But then he collapsed. They were able to keep him alive for a couple of days … but to me, he had the most special last day.”

Emily FaceTimed her dad that day after seeing a memory on her iPhone with a picture of the two of them. She’s grateful for that conversation, because the last thing her dad said to her was, “I love you.”

Colleen added, “And the other thing, when we said the rosary, we said prayers and he did not pray for himself. He prayed for World Peace and for his family. That’s my brother, that’s the kind of person he was.”

Remembering Larry on Empire State Ride

Colleen and Emily thought of Larry every day on the road for ESR, especially on the last day. It was pouring rain and cold, but it was Emily’s favorite day of the journey. Emily believes he was leaving signs that he was rooting for them as they prepared to cross the finish line. For example, he loved donuts and there were donuts at one of the rest stops. He would’ve left Christmas lights up all year round, and they rode past a tree still decorated for the holiday. The list goes on.

“It was meant to be from all these different forces that worked on getting us there, but then that last day, my dad was definitely with us,” said Emily.

For both Colleen and Emily, the experience on the road and at camp was so profound, they committed to coming back for ESR 2024.

“It’s one of those things. When you first sign up, you think this is a one-time thing, you know? And then you meet people, and you find out how many people have done it over and over and over again. So, this year, for me, I was like, ‘Okay, I’ve got to do it again this year because it’s for the 10-year anniversary,’” said Colleen.

The Team Regan roster has grown from four riders in 2023, to seven in 2024, and the captains hope to continue expanding. They’re grateful to the people who have joined their team to support the mission to end cancer.

While their reasons for returning are broader than their reasons for signing up in the first place, the impact is still at the forefront of their motivation.

“For me, knowing that the treatment process for my dad was so complicated by his unique medical issues, raising funds is something that means a hell of a lot to me, because I know that my dad would want someone in his shoes in the future to be able to beat cancer,” Emily explained.

Colleen added, “It’s amazing. It’s a really good feeling. “It’s a beautiful thing that it’s going to research because we need it.”

Colleen Regan at the ESR finish line

Maria Coccia-Bourgeois’ seven mountains: from ESR to surviving cancer

Maria being interviewed about ESR

It only takes one meeting with Maria Coccia-Bourgeois before she forms some sort of connection with you. She’ll likely know your name, greet you with a contagious smile, ask how you’re doing and genuinely care to hear your response. Maria’s gift and love for people is undeniable. Her outlook on life, especially as a cancer survivor, is equally as admirable. 

Perhaps the best way to describe Maria comes from a story she shared about her first Empire State Ride in 2017. On the third day of the seven-day adventure, Maria found herself off track.

“They wanted to flag me in. And I’m like, ‘No, I really don’t want to. I really, really, really want to do this ride.’ I wanted to pedal every mile that day, and I did,” said Maria. “I was the last one in, and there was Terry [the founder of Empire State Ride] at the top of the hill. I came in on my bike and Terry was standing there with his hands in his pocket just waiting for me. Everybody was cheering. He gave me the biggest bear hug, because the last person made it home.”

Maria could’ve been picked up that day; she could’ve decided to take the last miles of the day as a loss. But that’s not what she did.

“You don’t give up. You don’t give up,” she echoed. That memory from the road also serves as a metaphor for the way Maria has approached each obstacle in her life: the death of both her parents, a lifelong struggle with dyslexia and her own hard-fought battle with cancer.

How Maria Learned about ESR

Physical fitness has always been important to Maria. Indoor cycling was the first exercise she really loved before discovering the world of outdoor cycling.

“I used to spin six days a week at the gym. Get up, spin. I was blessed to have the time to do this. I truly believe we have one temple. We’ve got to take care of our temple: mind, body and spirit.”

Then, one day a friend asked Maria to join her on the 65-mile route at Ride for Roswell, one of the nation’s largest cycling fundraising events based in Buffalo, New York.

“I can still remember back then. I did it with some friends from the gym, and I’d never cycled outside, never. I just did it that year. After I did that first 65, I was exhilarated. I could have kept going. I’m like, ‘I want to go more. Let’s do this again!’”

And she did. The next year, she signed up for the 100-mile route. When she later learned about Empire State Ride from a friend and met ESR founder Terry Bourgeois at a different 100-mile cycling event, Maria sprang into action.

“And I flipped my life in two weeks to do the Empire State Ride.”

So began a new chapter for Maria.

Maria on the road at ESR in 2021
Maria riding at ESR

Becoming an Empire State Ride Road Warrior

The mission behind Empire State Ride is what had Maria hooked from the very beginning. She lost both her parents to cancer.

“My parents were A & G, Angelo and Gloria. They were an amazing couple, amazing parents. The love that they had … you can’t measure it.”

She was also drawn to the idea of a community of riders that become, in some ways, like family. And remember Maria’s natural gift with people? That absolutely shines through as a road warrior.

“I think there’s a magnetic component of her personality; she has become part of what makes the Empire State Ride a great experience,” said Terry. “With her fundraising, she sends out literally 300+ personal letters to 300 people. And every single donation she gets, she doesn’t send a text, she doesn’t send an email to thank them. She picks up the phone, and she calls them. She does that same thing with her fellow riders. She goes out of her way to make sure that people feel welcomed and loved.”

Maria has become not only a cheerleader for other riders, but some would even think of her as a mother figure on the road.

Maria’s Cancer Diagnosis

Maria prides herself on taking care of her body and being mindful of any warning signs that something could be off. During the 2021 ESR, she noticed she didn’t feel quite herself. Her stamina wasn’t what it used to be, and she started having trouble going to the bathroom.

She reached out to her doctor right away and sought to get to the root of the problem. After a sonogram and a CT scan, Maria received a phone call that no one ever anticipates. 

“I was on my bicycle spinning, riding my bike like I always did. And I got a call and she [the doctor] just said, ‘There’s a fatty mass and we need to get you at Roswell Park right away.’ I just lost it. I called Terry, and I told Terry what was going on. Boom, my life changed. I remember walking in the door at Roswell Park that Friday. I blessed myself and I said, ‘Jesus, you have the wheel.’ I threw my hands up and started my journey.”

A Cancer Battle of Seven Mountains

Maria was diagnosed with Leiomyosarcoma, a rare cancer that grows
in the smooth muscles. The treatment plan in front of her was aggressive and uncertain.

“I had 430 hours of chemo, a ten-hour surgery. I had a cantaloupe-sized
tumor, my left kidney and part of my large intestine removed.”

This was 2021, still in the thick of the COVID-19 pandemic. Maria
could only have two people by her side throughout the duration of her

By this time, Terry had become an incredibly close friend. He
would be one of those two people. Her niece Rebecca stepped up to be the second person as soon as she heard the news.

“Aunt Maria has such a huge family. And it’s not even just the Coccia kids that are her family,” said Rebecca. “It’s the Roswell family. It’s
the Empire State Ride family. It’s all of those people who have truly impacted her … I know for a fact that so many other people wished and wanted to be there. It’s not blood that makes family. If anybody is a true testament to that, it’s my Aunt Maria.”

Maria broke down her cancer treatment into what she called, “Seven Mountains.” Each mountain represented a different milestone in her journey: five rounds of initial chemo, a ten-hour surgery and one last round of chemo.

“I rang the Victory Bell in May and in  June I was on my bicycle. I wanted to be on the Empire State Ride. I accomplished all those goals – and the Seven Mountains,” said Maria. “We are so blessed, and yes, it changed me. This whole journey changed me.”

Maria Bell Ringing
Maria at Empire State Ride after cancer treatment.
Terry and Maria with friends at the 2022 finish line
Terry, Maria and friends at the finish line at ESR.

The Urgency Behind Empire State Ride

Today, Maria believes she is lucky to be alive. First and foremost, she thanks God, and then she thanks the medical team at Roswell Park. Every four months she goes for body scans and monitoring. The fear of her cancer coming back always lingers.

“Honestly, for a week before the scan, I’m a hot mess. A lot of praying. The night before you break down because you don’t know what they’re going to say. And then when, praise God, they say that it’s clear, then I’m just doing a happy dance.”

But, despite the amazing progress made in recent years thanks to events like ESR, Maria’s treatment was not one of the new, breakthrough advancements. Instead, it was incredibly invasive and toxic for Maria’s body.

“It’s hard to talk about reality sometimes,” said Terry. “But Maria’s reality is that because she had 430 hours of chemo, she’s reached her maximum allowable dosage of those drugs. If that cancer comes back again, what would be the next step? Once again, we don’t know for sure. But, if there is a light, it’s the light of what’s currently being worked on at Roswell Park with cellular therapy. There are known targets that the team has identified for sarcoma, and in my mind, that adds a huge sense of urgency to what we’re doing.”

With her parents still at the forefront of why she rides, knowing she’s pedaling for a breakthrough that could help her if her cancer were to return, fuels a new motivation for Maria.

Terry added, “We’ve got work to do. And the beautiful thing is, we have a path to go down.”

More Life to Live After Cancer

The end of Maria’s cancer treatment marked the beginning of a new adventure. While cancer has left her forever changed, her appreciation for life has only grown. Still, she’s made it back to ESR each year. Even when an injury prevented her from riding her own bike, she and Terry took on the statewide trek together on a tandem bike.

She’s also found love. Her friendship with Terry evolved into a wonderful relationship, and at the finish line in Niagara Falls at ESR 2022, Terry asked Maria to marry him. Their story, which in some ways bloomed out of adversity, is a reminder that getting to the top of the mountain is always something worth fighting for.

That’s true for Maria’s personal battle with sarcoma, and it’s true for the greater cause that brings us all together: ending cancer.

Four reasons you should camp at ESR

Camp life is a core piece of the Empire State Ride (ESR) adventure. From incredible programming to mouthwatering meals and weeklong bonding, you won’t want to miss this uniquely ESR experience.

“It’s part of the camaraderie that makes the ESR so special,” said Steve Marsco-chair of ESR and longtime rider.

We know there are many factors to consider when committing to this seven-day journey. That’s why Steve, along with a few other riders and ESR staff, are here to help set your mind at ease about camping.

1. Mission-based programming:

We strongly encourage riders to take part in evening programming. At each campsite, you’ll learn how you’re making a difference through engaging, personal and impactful programming. Some evenings you’ll hear from patients and doctors about the fundraising dollars at work. Other nights you may listen to riders about what the mission means to them — or even share your own story! Each evening is different, and altogether you’ll gain a greater understanding of the ESR mission.

“My first Empire State ride was 2016. I was a mountain bike person, and I said I’m going to do this ride as a way to honor my mother. I thought it was going to be a one-and-done experience, but it was the evening programming that told me that Empire State Ride isn’t just a cycling event. It’s a much bigger idea and bigger concept,” said Steve

Empire State Ride founder, Terry Bourgeois, talking about the mission to end cancer.
A cancer survivor hugging another Empire State Ride road warrior during evening programming.
Two Trees Catering serving meals at Empire State Ride.
This photo shows Empire State Ride road warriors clapping during evening programming. The evening programming is centered around the mission to end cancer.

2. Meals:

Riding 500+ miles across New York State takes passion, dedication and a commitment to getting the work done. So does feeding the 300+ riders and staff members each July. Enter father-daughter duo Adam and Johanna Morrison of Two Trees Catering.

With the support of ESR staff and a catering team of seven others, Adam and Johanna make sure road warriors are well-fed and ready to tackle 60 to 100 miles each day.

Riders and staff members alike gather family-style for breakfast and dinner each day, with a focus on clean, whole foods and a few staples that riders need like pasta and protein.

“Nutrition is very, very important to our riders, and the food is great. There’s lots of it,” said Tom Johnston, ESR Operations Manager.

3. Convenience:

ESR is camping made easy! Comfy Campers, along with our volunteers and behind-the-scenes team, work hard to make sure when you arrive at camp after a long day on the road, you’re as comfortable as possible. Tents, air mattresses, camp chairs and clean towels are set up and taken down daily by the staff at Comfy Campers.

Each camp has a rider reception and services hub. Restrooms or portable restrooms and a traveling shower truck are available on site. Riders also have access to a bike repair team, electronics charging stations and so much more!

“After the riders leave at around 7 a.m., we pack up everything. Comfy Campers packs up 300 tents individually. They roll them up, put them in their trailers, drive an hour to the next place and unload them all,” said ESR Production Manager Katie Menke.
“Camping makes it easier because the shuttling back and forth is arduous. You’re doing it twice at every campsite. When you’re camping, you can roll out of bed, get dressed, go have breakfast, wheel your bag over the truck and you’re good to go,” said Steve.
An Empire State Ride Road Warrior carrying a mattress at the campground.
An Empire State Ride Road Warrior at the camp ground.

4. Experience

ESR is an experience unlike any other, and that’s largely due to the camping environment and culture. But don’t take our word for it! This is what other road warriors have to say about camping:

“Everyone is so friendly and helpful — the energy! I got to meet some incredible people and talk to them about their why and share my why. There are some people who are retired. There are some professionals. There are some young people, so it’s pretty incredible being exposed to all of that diversity.” – Allison Joseph

“At the end of the day, it’s not about the ride. It’s about the funds raised. And it’s about hanging out at camp when you get there. Trust me, the beer tastes really good after a day of riding.” – Richard Noll

“I did my first Empire State Ride, hopped on the bus and off I went. I’d never camped. I was a Holiday Inn girl, but I learned to camp, and I’ve learned a lot of things about myself that I never thought that I would do or could do.” – Maria Thor

Two Empire State Ride road warriors standing during evening programming. One has a shirt that reads, "To end cancer."
This photo shows the tents lined up at Empire State Ride.
Road warriors at Empire State Ride gathering at camp.

Still have questions?

Let us answer a few! Click here. 

Don’t hesitate to reach out to our Empire State Ride team at or via phone at (716) 845-3179. Our fundraising experts, Katie and Tori, can answer any questions you might have.

We can’t wait to take on this adventure with you!

A humble beginning: How Empire State Ride grew into what it is today

Empire State Ride has grown immensely over the last decade. Here’s a look at the event’s early years. 

The original Empire State RIde team in 2015
2015 →
Empire State RIde 2023

If you’ve hit the road with us before or follow Empire State Ride (ESR) on social media, you’ve likely heard about ESR Founder Terry Bourgeois’s first solo ride across New York State. In 2014, Terry set out to test his vision of a cross-state cancer fundraiser that started in New York City and ended in Niagara Falls. But what about the first official Empire State Ride back in 2015 or the second ride in 2016? How did those rides differ from the ESR we know and love?

Empire State Ride has grown significantly over the last decade — in size, reputation and its impact in the fight to end cancer. The event has increased from 10 riders to almost 300 with fundraising efforts for cancer research increasing from $55,000 in 2015 to an astonishing $2.1 million in 2023. Now, we’re striving to hit a collective $10 million dollars raised for ESR’s 10th anniversary.

The First Official Empire State Ride

The 2015 Empire State Ride Route
The 2015 Empire State Ride Route

Back in 2015, the route was much different than it is today and so were the logistics that went into bringing the weeklong adventure to life. That first year saw riders set out from American Youth Hostels in Manhattan, where registration was held, to embark on the experience of a lifetime. Throughout the seven days, they stayed in different camps than the ones lined up for 2024, including:

  • American Youth Hostels in Manhattan (orientation)
  • City Park in Stony Point
  • Unification Seminary in Barrytown
  • Frosty Acres Campground in Schenectady
  • Utica City Park in Utica
  • River Forest Campground in Weedsport
  • Spencerport High School in Spencerport

There were no shower trucks, rider HUB, catering trucks or elaborate nightly program; the group was small enough to use campground facilities and restrooms. Those riders quickly became close, gathering nightly at bonfires to recount the day’s adventures and relive the trials and challenges of the days — including the hills.

“The first route was very different,” says Roswell Park’s Executive Director of Patient and Family Experience Kara Eaton, who was on the road that first year. “It was very difficult, but I built up mental and physical strength to get through and had the support of strangers who became family.”

Among others in attendance on that milestone year were IceCycle Founder Bill Loecher and John “Blue” Hannon, an Adventure Cycling Association leader who lent his expertise on bike tours to the event coordinators. The 11 Day Power Play Founder Amy Lesakowski join in the event’s second year.

Terry at American Youth Hostels, where the original orientation was held

We had close tabs on each other [in 2015]. There were times when the crew loved it, and then there were some hills when I heard riders yelling my name, saying: ‘I’m going to kill him! This hill sucks!’ I took that as a lesson learned, and we eventually took out some of the hills. At the end of the ride in 2015, the concept of ESR was solid. From there, we had to press on and make it real.

Hills and the Original Empire State Ride Route

Along the original route, riders tackled a mix of roadways and trails, similar to today’s path but with some pretty dramatic ascents. The hills proved to be challenging in the moment but eventually became stories shared for years to come.

Blue Hannon describes how one of those hills on day one has become a favorite memory. “My favorite memory of that year was the magnificence of riding through New York City and over the George Washington Bridge. You had to climb to get up to the bridge. But being on the bridge on your bike with the water down there … it was awesome.”

Of course, one of the steepest but most memorable hills came immediately before camp at Frosty Acres Campground in Schenectady on day three. In later years, that hill would become an epicenter for rider support with a crowd loudly and proudly cheering on riders as they ascended the last trying climb that stood between them and a good night’s rest — the same hill from which Team Dragon Slayers was born.

On the road each July, slaying dragons has become an extended metaphor for facing life’s challenges head on, whether you’re crushing a hill or raising money for cancer research. Phil Zodda, a six-time road warrior, recounts pushing against everything he had to get up that hill at Frosty Acres. When he reached the top, a rider named Carlos handed him a “dragon slayer” patch and congratulated him on joining the rank of dragon slayers. Though that hill is no longer part of Empire State Ride, Phil has made it his mission to hand out dragon slayer badges to those tackling hills on day three of ESR.  

“Together, we will slay this dragon called cancer and make the world a better place for future generations,” Zodda says.

Of course, for many, those hills simply made the finish line moment even more memorable. When the road warriors crossed the 2015 finish line (in front of the Niagara Falls Discovery Center instead of its current home on Old Falls Street), they proved how a small group of committed people can persevere, setting into motion a decade of unforgettable memories that have made a tangible impact in the fight to end cancer.

The Growth that Followed

The next year, the event grew to 63 people who raised $252,000, then to 84 people who raised $424,000. Each year brought with it a greater impact for cutting-edge cancer research and lifesaving clinical trials at Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center and beyond.

Looking back, it’s easy to understand how this group of dedicated road warriors has been able to raise more than $8 million for cancer research. Now we’ll ride onward to hit a collective $10 million for cancer research on a milestone year.

Will you join us for the 10th anniversary?

The original ESR jersey

Coach Charlie Livermore: 10 things I love about Empire State Ride

By Coach Charlie Livermore

The Empire State Ride is lucky to have the support of professional cycling coach Charlie Livermore as an advisor and friend. Charlie is not only a coach at Carmichael Training Systems, but also serves as a training consultant on our adventure across New York State. He offers his expertise and tips to all ESR riders and joins us on the road each July to ride 500+ miles.  

2024 marks a milestone in Empire State Ride history: the historic 10th anniversary ride. To mark the occasion, ESR Pro-Level Cycling Coach Charlie Livermore put together a list of his 10 favorite things that he loves about Empire State Ride (ESR). Check it out!

1. The week.

I love that this is a weeklong event. It’s hard to describe in words why this is such an amazing week in my life every year, but I can tell you that at the end of seven days, I’m always wishing for seven more.

2. The opportunity to teach and help.

I love teaching and helping participants find ways to make the challenge a little easier and more fun. I give coaching sessions on select nights and am always available for questions.

3. The cause.

I’m a cancer survivor and experienced a positive outcome from my treatment in a clinical trial. The end goal is to eliminate cancers, but along the way, Roswell Park is developing less intrusive treatments to survive this disease.

Charlie Livermore on the road at ESR
Charlie Livermore alongside other ESR riders
Charlie taking a selfie with other riders at ESR

4. The Roswell Park Alliance Foundation Team.

The passion and organizational skills from this team put this event at the top of well-run events I have done.

5. Eat, Sleep, Ride, Repeat.

Everything is provided so that all you have to do is focus on eating, riding and sleeping. It’s really an adventure vacation.

6. Evening program.

The inspiration, camaraderie and education of the post-dinner evening program sets this event apart from any other. You’ll laugh, cry and go to sleep every night inspired!

7. Volunteers.

ESR has the most committed, fun, energized and helpful volunteers you’ll experience at any event.

8. Food, rest stops and festivities.

Great breakfasts and dinners, plenty of well-stocked rest stops along the routes and fun evening festivities!

Charlie Livermore and other ESR riders eating at a rest stop
Charlie Livermore holds sign with friends at halfway point.

9. Community.

You’ll experience the most interesting, welcoming and inclusive community at ESR.  Everyone is respected, and comfortable in being themselves and expressing all aspects of their identities. Everyone shares a sense of belonging here.

10. Friendships.

You will meet and make friends for life here.

Meet the Long Island Rough Riders

port x logistics logo

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.

Get creative with fundraising!

When you sign up for Empire State Ride, you’re committing to raising critical funds for lifesaving cancer research. You can learn our tips and tools to kickstart your fundraising, but don’t be afraid to think outside the box! Get creative with your interests and talents and let this part of the journey be just as fun and fulfilling as your adventure on the road.

Curious about what’s working for road warriors? Check it out! 


Melissa relies on data as a talking point while fundraising. “The thing that impresses me most is for every dollar that’s donated, it’s $23 worth of research. That data point really hit home with a lot of my friends and family, and they’ve donated a lot because of that number.”


Josh recognizes the strength in numbers while fundraising with his team, the Regulators. “Coming up as a team and working together is the key to it.” In previous years, they held a charity hockey tournament, and they’re working to hold a meat raffle this year. They also work the concessions at Buffalo Bills games and split the proceeds among the riders who volunteer.

An ESR jersey saying 500+ miles, 7 days, one mission
Maritza's dough-nate for doughnut fundraiser


Maritza inspired the sugar lovers in her network by encouraging them to “Donate for a Doughnut.” Donors who gave one dollar or more to her Empire State Ride fundraiser received an original glazed doughnut in return.


Shelley also tapped into the sweet tooth of her donors, especially around the holiday season. “I offer up apple pies and pumpkin rolls for donations. Last year, I raised more than $1,700 and made more than 60 pies and 60 pumpkin rolls. This year, I’ll be well over $2,000 for just about the same amount of inventory. People are just more generous.”

Billy wears his clown nose


In 2023, BillyTheKid’s efforts paid off after seeking out funding opportunities from a local Jewish organization. He presented the Empire State Ride’s impact on cancer and was awarded a $3,000 donation.


Justin aims to make his fundraiser as personal as possible. “I think what’s worked for me is sharing stories from loved ones and the folks that I’m riding for because, after each week, someone new would donate after reading a particular story.”

Justin Eveland and his dad, Ken.


Downloading the ESR myHUB app is a great way to kick off your fundraising. The app offers convenient features like mobile check deposit and email and SMS messaging to send donation requests to loved ones. But that’s not all! You can also integrate your fitness tracker and compete against fellow ESR riders in challenges. 

Not sure where to start?

Feel free to use our fundraising tools to help you each step of the way!

Ask the ESR Fundraising Team:

And if you’re still in need of some assistance, ask the ESR Fundraising Team! Fundraising is what we do! If you need some help reaching your goal, contact us. We will guide you with tips and tools to make the process as smooth as possible. Reach out to us at

With support from your ESR community, fundraising doesn’t have to be another hill to climb on your journey. Instead, it can be an exciting part of the adventure! You’ve got this.

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

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.


Terry Bourgeois, ESR Founder