Here, Billy talks about the family business, being on the road for ESR and his journey with thyroid cancer
You’ll see BillytheKid Klein on the road during Empire State Ride sporting a large red nose and a sly smile. If you ask him about his nickname, he’ll tell you it’s just who he is. His family called five-year-old Billy by that name, and he now uses that name for all his businesses. He even signs his checks with a little running man heart and BillytheKid — anything to make people smile.
Billy lives on a large farm in rural Pennsylvania, where he’s resided for more than 45 years with his family, raising horses. His daughter won two world championships and a reserve in equine competition during her youth. When Billy and his wife retired from breeding stallions, they shifted their focus to more sentimental occasions: weddings. They acquired carriages and started a business that takes brides to the altar — in true Cinderella-style. The pair has several Victorian outfits and top hats that they wear to give the carriage ride a more magical feel.
Billy’s Cancer Journey
On a sunny day in New York City, Billy sat in a large waiting room of a local hospital. As he looked out over the East River, a group of people close by started talking about cycling. Billy’s ears perked up when he heard them mention a tour that went from Staten Island to Niagara Falls. He grabbed a seat next to them and started asking questions about the adventure. They pointed him to the Empire State Ride website, where Billy learned about the 500+ miles it took to get from one end of New York to the other, the road warriors who make it happen and the critical funds raised for cancer research.
“You’re in a certain state of mind when you’re in a hospital and with other people who share your problems,” he said. “Something really clicked. I felt chills reading the stories, seeing the testimonials. I was hooked. I did all the research I could and said, ‘I’m in!’
Cycling is a big part of Billy’s life, but the thought of riding between 70 and 100 miles per day seemed like a whole new ballgame. Embarking on Empire State Ride in honor of cancer patients felt like a challenge that he needed to take on to help others and honor his own story.
Billy’s cancer journey started in 2014 when he found himself more congested than usual. His doctors sent him for a chest X-ray, and that’s when they made a startling discovery: Billy had thyroid cancer. He soon had a full thyroidectomy followed by a round of radioactive isotopes to wipe out the residual cancer. For a while, that was it. They monitored Billy closely for five years.
Then, in January 2019, Billy’s doctors ran a round of tests that showed poorly differentiated thyroid cancer — cancer cells that don’t look like normal cancer cells. He began treatment again but soon became iodine resistant. The cancer started to grow, and it hasn’t stopped.
Billy’s First Empire State Ride
Billy’s own cancer journey, and those of his loved ones, made his commitment to participating in the 2022 Empire State Ride even more meaningful. But it’s the experience that Billy had on the road that sold him on hitting the road again this year for #ESR23.
“It was life-changing,” he said. “You know how you go to a concert or a movie that’s so great you don’t want it to end? You don’t look at your watch. You don’t want to know the time. Well, that’s the feeling I had the last day of ESR.”
Billy raves about the community of people that he was surrounded by as he rode the 500+ miles across the state. Despite some riders being younger and having better endurance, Billy said people really looked out for him and helped him complete the mileage.
As for the fundraising, Billy said he really felt intimidated by having to raise $3,500 when he first signed up. Many of his friends were retired and on strict budgets. So, he started by asking for small amounts and he kept asking everyone he knew. Before he knew it, he’d hit his goal. Then, on the road, Billy would share his daily progress. Once people saw firsthand what Billy was doing, even more donations rolled in.
“I put in a report every night to my contributors on Facebook,” he said. “Money just started flowing in. It was overwhelming. I went to sleep crying every night because I was so touched.”
As for fundraising for 2023, Billy sought out an endowment from a local Jewish organization. He presented about the impact Empire State Ride has on cancer, and they offered a $3,000 donation. Now, he plans to raise his goal and keep going for a cause that’s helping other survivors and thrivers just like him.