Search Empire State Ride

ESR Rider Spotlight: Phil Zodda

Meet Phil Zodda, Athlete and dragon slayer

Phil is no stranger to competition — whether he’s competing or coaching. He’s a six-time runner of the New York City Marathon and soon-to-be five-time road warrior for the Empire State Ride. If you’ve ever been on the road for ESR, you might have seen Phil with a whistle in hand, dishing out Swedish Fish as he cheers on other riders from his bike. He slays dragons and rides for everyone else who does the same.

Dragons? you might ask. They’re Phil’s go-to metaphor for all of life’s challenges: setbacks, obstacles, hills and (especially) cancer. He rides in solidarity with everyone who wants to slay cancer for good. While he’s doing so, he’ll likely be the one helping you overcome your own dragons and conquer Empire State Ride.

“You’ll always come across someone who could use a little verbal support, a little slap in the back of the saddle, just to help them along. I enjoy picking up someone who might be solo, and they’re still out there slugging along. I just come up alongside them and stay there and pace them and talk with them,” Phil says.

The Origins of Dragon Slaying

Phil Zodda proudly holds his bike over his head at the finish line of Empire State Ride in Niagara Falls.The idea of dragon slaying came to Phil during his first year riding in Empire State Ride. Phil had just reached Albany and found himself faced with a hill that seemed to stretch for miles. At the end of the hill was the next camp. To get there, however, he had to climb for what felt like forever. His legs were wiped halfway up, but he kept pushing and pushing.

“My ego was such that I wasn’t walking a damn inch. No one was going to put me on the truck and carry me through. There were four of us, and I think two stopped at the rest stop in Albany and took the bus back to the camp. My friend and I rode onward.”

When the pair reached the top of the hill, people rang bells, cheered, gave hugs and shouted words of encouragement. A fellow Empire State Ride road warrior named Carlos greeted Phil and said, ‘Congratulations, you’re a dragon slayer.’ Carlos handed Phil a patch with a dragon on it, and from that moment on, the metaphor became Phil’s mantra. 

That winter, Phil thought about his Empire State Ride experience and the feeling of accomplishment he felt from tackling a physical challenge while raising money for cancer research. It had been the first time he’d ever done anything like it, and he resolved to return the following year to conquer Empire State Ride again while inspiring others to slay their own dragons.

“I’m no one special. I am not an elite athlete. I’m just another average guy who’s out there on the course. I’m not a young fellow either,” Phil says. “If I can do it and pedal, so can you. And if there’s a reason why you’re trying it, then let’s finish what you started.”

phil's Background

Phil coached high school track for 34 years before he retired. He’s also been involved with the New York City Marathon for close to 41 years, building the finish line, working as a four-mile captain and, most recently, escorting the elite runners on his bike. A retired teacher, Phil brings his passion for guiding others to everything he does, and Empire State Ride is no exception.

Cycling is not Phil’s first sport, but he made the transition from running following orthoscopic surgery on his knee. It wasn’t really until a friend handed him an Empire State Ride business card that Phil started riding regularly, though. He had tossed the ESR card into a drawer and forgotten about it for months. When he rediscovered it, the timing felt serendipitous. At the time, his wife was overseas for their niece’s funeral. Their niece, only in her thirties, had passed away from breast cancer. Participating in Empire State Ride was the perfect way for Phil to challenge himself physically while honoring those lost to cancer like his niece.

Five years later, Phil keeps coming back to ride again.

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

Join Phil and his team of dragon slayers by registering for Empire State Ride today. Don’t wait — the last day to register is June 29.

Join Phil at this year’s Empire State Ride. 

ESR rider spotlight: Diana Flores

Diana Flores: Detective. Mother. Cyclist. Survivor. Warrior.

As a detective for the New York Police Department, Diana works for the Intelligence Bureau, detecting and disrupting criminal and terrorist activity using intelligence-led policing. The role marks a deviation from her previous job as an investigator in the field, where she faced dangerous and often life-threatening situations. Being involved in those situations taught her courage, strength and the value of doing what needs to be done — a mindset she’s embraced in all facets of her life.

When Diana learned that she had breast cancer in November 2020, that resilient mindset was tested. As the mother of a four-year-old daughter, hearing the words you have cancer was more terrifying than anything she’d ever encountered on the job.  

“Of course, I was afraid. The first thing that came to my mind was, ‘I can’t leave my daughter. I don’t want to die,’” she says. “When you’re living for someone who’s counting on you and looking up to you, the last thing you want to do is leave.”

Diana fought with everything she had to stay with her daughter. Over the course of two years, she underwent treatment, a double mastectomy and reconstructive surgery. Now, she’s grateful to have returned to a career she loves and a newfound purpose: fighting for other cancer patients.

From cancer survivor to cancer warrior

For as long as Diana can remember, being competitive and active have been pillars in her life. Her favorite childhood memories involved racing her brother, Anthony, on bikes to see who could make it to their aunt’s house first. They took different, more difficult routes every time. In adulthood, she sought out ways to stay active, breaking out her bike for fitness and leaning into anything she viewed as a challenge.

“Movement is medicine,” Diana says.

Naturally, when she saw an Empire State Ride commercial on TV at home in the Bronx, she knew her next journey was about to begin.

“When I found out what [ESR] was about and learned that it was for cancer research and to end cancer, I just got a feeling that said, ‘I have to do this ride,’” she says. “I was going through my chemo treatments at the time, and I promised myself that next year, if I was able to ride, nothing was going to stop me from doing it for myself and those who can’t do it.”

Empire State Ride 2022 will be her first-ever multiday tour. She’s completed other day rides, but this challenge is new to her, and nothing will hold her back. She knows she is stronger than any pain or challenge and is fighting for something bigger than herself. Diana rides today for the advancement of cancer cures tomorrow.

On Empire State Ride

Diana’s decision to participate in Empire State Ride comes less than a year after her treatments ended. She’s honoring not only herself, but her sister-in-law who survived non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, her mother-in-law who is a two-time survivor of cervical cancer and her daughter for whom she has always fought.

“It’s going to be amazing when my daughter grows up. The technology and the medicine are going to get better. It has already gotten better. You go from people dying from breast cancer — and I know they still do — but there are so many more survivors. So, this ride is going to mean a lot.”

Diana has already started to train and dream about reaching the finish line at Niagara Falls. She’s been following Charlie Livermore’s training plan and has no doubt that reaching the falls will be one of the most rewarding moments of her life. It will take courage, strength and a commitment to doing what needs to be done, but the detective in her has years of practice at that already.

She’s thankful for the opportunity to ride and for the support of her family, especially her husband, William and her beautiful daughter. “I am just happy … happy to be strong enough. That I came out of this on top. It was a tough time, but I am happy that I am here to tell my story and that I am healthy.”

Become an Empire State road warrior and join Diana in the fight to end cancer.

Join Diana at this year’s Empire State Ride. 

Finding the right wheels and gear

Empire State Ride is the adventure of a lifetime for many types of athletes. This unique challenge proves that, with two wheels, you can change the world and save lives. We have the answers to frequently asked questions about your two wheels.

Frequently Asked Questions

What type of bike can I use? 

A road bike is the best type of bicycle to ride during Empire State Ride. Road bikes are light weight, have a shifting system to take on distance and hills, narrow tires for pavement and precision braking systems. 

Some riders opt for a touring bike, which is heavier but built for long distance riding with gear.

Regardless of the make and model of your bike, we highly recommend you take your bike to a local bike shop for a fitting and tune up before setting out on this adventure.

Can I use an e-bike?

For Empire State Ride, we allow Class 1 and Class 2, pedal-assist road or touring bikes. We cannot accommodate throttle-assist e-bikes. E-bikes will need extender batteries to achieve the daily 70+ miles per day. E-bikes are charged each night at the campsite. Owners are responsible for charging the batteries. Before registering, please call us at 716-845-3179 to confirm your type of e-bike and charging requirements. 

Do I need clips and cycling shoes?

Many of our riders prefer to clip into pedals with cycling shoes, which allows for power on both upstroke and downstroke. Riders have completed Empire State Ride on touring and fitness bikes with clip-in or flat-pedal shoes. 

What do I wear?

High visibility gear! We suggest packing a fresh pair of cycling shorts and jersey for each day. Registered riders receive an Empire State Ride custom cycling jersey to wear on the first and last day of the weeklong ride. Don’t forget to pack cycling socks, cycling cap, shoes, gloves and a rain jacket. Empire State Ride happens rain or shine!

What do I need for my bike?

Riders need a seat or handlebar bag for their bike. Bike bags should carry a patch kit, tire levers, spare tubes, inflator and co2 cartridges (threaded or unthreaded dependent on type of inflator) to inflate tires and a multi-tool for quick repairs. A GPS unit is necessary for navigating our route, and we suggest carrying two water bottles for hydration. Certified helmet (CPSC or ASTM) and flashing front and rear bike lights are required for safety.

To be prepared for an average of 80 miles each day, riders should train to ride 20 to 30 miles outdoors at a brisk pace without stopping. Riders need to be comfortable while riding on bike paths and with traffic. Getting plenty of “seat time” will help your body adjust to the feel of long-distance cycling. It’s important to start using anti-chafing personal care products early in training to figure out what works best for your body. We suggest using chamois butter and Desenex proactively. 

The Empire State Ride is an experience for any cyclist who can commit to take on the adventure of a lifetime to end cancer. If you have additional questions, contact our team at empirestateride@roswellpark.org .

proceeds directly benefit