Search Empire State Ride

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
treatment.

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.

How to pack for a 500+ mile bike ride across New York State

Packing for ESR? Check out these tips.

Tackling a seven-day, 500+ mile cycling adventure takes preparation, and one of the best steps you can take to prepare for Empire State Ride is to pack appropriately. When you register for this lifechanging ride, you learn all the details about the adventure you’re taking on. Here, you’ll also find a list of necessities to pack and suggestions for some of the must-haves you may not have considered. 

Once you’ve reviewed the packing list, check out the tips below from our veteran riders for inspiration.

🚲 Terry Bourgeois

ESR founder Terry Bourgeois suggests packing:

  1. Flashlight for navigating camp
  2. Vitamins, focusing on magnesium and potassium supplements for recovery
  3. BioFreeze or a topical pain-relieving product
  4. Earplugs to use in the tent
  5. Desitin for skin irritation
Terry speaks into a microphone in an ESR shirt during the weeklong adventure. Filler content.

Maria COccia-Bourgeois

Seven-year rider Maria Thor is always prepared with:

  1. Performance bars
  2. Packs of nuts
  3. Pedialyte for hydration
  4. Toilet paper with a plastic bag for use in between rest stops
  5. Tube, co2 cartridge and bike tool

🚲 Joyce Ohm

Five-year veteran rider Joyce Ohm can’t leave home without:

  1. Gallon Ziplock plastic bags – she packs her kits (jersey, bibs, sports bra, socks) in plastic bags for each day, with clothes for the evening, as well. Dirty clothes go back in the plastic bags. If it rains, suitcases can get wet, and the bags protect her clothing from rain.
  2. Lightweight, fitted sheet to cover the air mattress
  3. Battery-operated fan for the tent
  4. Recovery shakes and a reusable water bottle
  5. …. and most importantly: A sense of humor!
Dr. Joyce Ohm dons a white Roswell Park lab coat in an office setting. She weighs in on ESR impact.

As part of the $3,500 fundraising commitment, riders are provided with a tent, air mattress, camp chair and towel service each day. Each rider is allowed two medium-size bags, plus a sleeping bag and pillow that we transport each day. The weight of any single bag may not exceed 35 pounds. Pack strategically to have everything you need to enjoy the week! 

Full circle moments: Why first-time ESR rider Fred McKenna rides to end cancer

Fred's Why for Riding

There are moments in life when you look back and realize how all your life experiences connect — whether it’s destiny, divinity or mere coincidence. First-time Empire State Rider Fred McKenna reflects on this idea as he sits down at his computer in his home office in Oakdale, NY. Donning black-rimmed glasses and a blue-and-white polo, he shares his why for participating in Empire State Ride and fundraising for cancer research — something Fred says is akin to common sense.

“It’s just the right thing to do if you have the means and the opportunity, and you can do it,” Fred says. “If you can’t do what I do and ride and raise that much because physically or financially you can’t, then contribute in some way.”

For Fred, 74, a prostate cancer survivor, former science teacher and retired entrepreneur, riding in Empire State Ride means more than just the adventure. He remembers the days when he’d coach his daughter Aileen’s soccer team, doing his best to instill in her important life skills.

“My dad was my coach from a very young age all the way through until I was ready to go off to college,” says Aileen. “He was a great coach. He loved the game and loved seeing us succeed — but he also felt very strongly that playing soccer wasn’t just about playing soccer. It was about learning, about commitment and teamwork and the value of hard work.

In recent years, Fred and Aileen discovered that the son of a fellow soccer coach went on to become a leading researcher in the field of CAR T-Cell Therapy. Up until a few years ago, this fact may not have given them pause. Today, however, it connects to their lives in a significant way.

A Christmas picture of the McKenna family was just after Aileen got the CAR T treatment

“It's just the right thing to do if you have the means and the opportunity, and you can do it. If you can't do what I do and ride and raise that much because physically or financially you can't, then contribute in some way.”

Photo of Aileen getting her head shaved
Photo of Aileen getting her head shaved

Navigating His Daughter’s Cancer Diagnosis

In October 2021, Aileen, 38 at the time, started to cough and feel under the weather. The cough lingered for more than a month, and she became extremely out of breath and fatigued. At Thanksgiving, family members encouraged her to see a doctor. She soon visited a walk-in clinic where she received a chest X-ray. That scan revealed the first sign of serious trouble (and every parent’s worst nightmare): a mass in the center of Aileen’s chest.

Aileen’s physicians moved quickly, referring her first for a CT scan. Over the next month, she bounced between a local medical facility and her primary care physician, working with a thoracic surgeon, cardiologist and oncologist to determine her diagnosis.

On January 6, 2022, after a month of tests and uncertainty, the diagnosis finally came back: Aileen had lymphoma, later determined to be diffuse large b-cell non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. The cancer was aggressive but actionable, and Aileen, with the support of her dad and mom, immediately took the first step.

The next day, Aileen started her first of six chemotherapy treatments spanning four months. She received each dose within a five-day span, then three weeks of recovery in between treatments. At the end of chemotherapy, the tumor in her chest shrunk but didn’t go away.

Navigating CAR T-Cell Therapy

The next step in Aileen’s treatment involved CAR T-Cell Therapy, one of the first FDA-approved cellular therapies to incorporate adoptive cell transfer. This innovative treatment option was pioneered by Renier Brentjens, MD, PhD, Deputy Director at Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center, and only recently moved up as a second-line treatment option by Aileen’s insurance. Months earlier, she may have needed more chemotherapy.

On November 14, Aileen went back to a New York City based hospital to begin her therapy — starting with having T-cells removed from her blood and sent to a laboratory. There, a gene was inserted to help them hunt down cancer cells and launch an attack. The stronger cells were multiplied and returned to Aileen through an infusion. This allowed Aileen’s own immune system to fight the cancer cells. There were side effects, of course, but Aileen said their duration was much shorter than what she experienced during chemotherapy.

Fifteen days later, Aileen was released from the hospital. On January 6, 2023, one year to the date of her diagnosis, she was officially declared no evidence of disease.

Reflecting on this moment, Aileen thinks back to her soccer days. “I learned a lot of lessons in soccer that I think really paid off when it came time to surviving cancer and going through treatment — a lot about persistence. I learned that you can do hard things and that you can be in a lot of pain and keep going. All those things were weirdly valuable lessons that came out of soccer that had nothing to do with winning games or being a champion athlete. Flash forward, all these experiences kind of connected.”

Aileen with shaved head during treatment

"I learned that you can do hard things and that you can be in a lot of pain and keep going. "

Life After Cancer

A cancer diagnosis often affects more than just the patient. “Cancer didn’t only happen to me,” Aileen says. “It happened to everyone around me. Everybody reacts to that kind of fear and frustration and helplessness very differently. Both of my parents provided an immense amount of care.”

For Fred, the fear and uncertainty of watching his daughter go through treatment led to action. Cycling, a long-time passion of his, seemed like a logical way to make a difference on the future of cancer care.

“There’s never going to be a time when my daughter doesn’t think about cancer. It’s just in no way possible. How could you go through what she went through and not be concerned every time you get a call or you’re sick or you’re coughing too much? In the back of your head, you’re thinking, what do I have?”

Fred's bike club

Why Fundraising for Empire State Ride Matters

As Fred prepares to ride his bike across New York State, his cancer connection and drive to move the research forward is deepened by the knowledge that funds from Empire State Ride benefit Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center, a national leader in cell therapy research. While researching the event, Fred also learned that Roswell Park developed an innovative brain cancer vaccine, SurVaxM, that is making strides in treating glioblastoma patients. Fred’s nephew passed away from brain cancer a few years ago. He was only 22.

“I think that the stuff around glioblastomas is so groundbreaking and tremendous,” Fred says. “It is a death sentence, and here they are, beginning to have some impact on it.”

Advances in critical areas where little is known about less common, aggressive and complex cancers depend on research — and research is funded through donor dollars like those raised through Empire State Ride.

Looking Ahead to the 500+ Mile Adventure

Thinking back on his daughter’s cancer journey, the loss of his nephew and his own battles with prostate cancer that was treated and cured with bracytherapy, Fred has confidence that his fundraising efforts through Empire State Ride will bring more effective, less invasive ways to treat all types of cancers — and hope to patients everywhere, including Aileen.

“Cancer comes in many forms and shows up in many, many different ways. I don’t know if we’re ever going to totally cure it, but maybe we could develop treatments, even for chronic types of cancers, where we can keep people alive, allowing them to live normal lives,” Fred says.

Until that day, Fred plans to keep going and keep riding, enjoying every moment with Aileen along the way.

 

 

Picture of Fred with his wife and daughter Aileen.

"I don’t know if we’re ever going to totally cure it, but maybe we could develop treatments, even for chronic types of cancers, where we can keep people alive, allowing them to live normal lives."

To date, Fred has raised more than $16,000 for the cause.


Join Fred on the road today.

Excelsior riders fuel triple negative breast cancer research

Each year, Excelsior riders who raised $20,000 or more fund one unique project approved by the Scientific Advisory Committee (SAC) for its high potential. Here’s a look at the most recent SAC grant designation. 

Fueling Triple Negative Breast Cancer Research

Education Site - Dr. Azrak OICO Program 2.4.21-41
Dr. Mukherjee Lab Photos November 8, 2022-27 (4)

At Roswell Park, our researchers are constantly asking the next question and working toward new discoveries. Many times, those groundbreaking findings begin with a simple question or a small data set. Major national funding for cancer research doesn’t come into play until a scientist can prove they have a solid foundation and are already well on their way to something big.

Our solution is the Scientific Advisory Committee (SAC). Roswell Park researchers submit unique project proposals to understand something deeper about their dedicated cancer focus. Through a competitive and rigorous process, the projects with the highest potential and most established groundwork are selected for funding.

These SAC grants are made possible by the generosity of road warriors and their donors, without whom, many of these projects could not get off the ground and make their marks on cancer as we know it. For every $1 donated to the Roswell Park Alliance Foundation and invested into research initiatives, researchers go on to earn an additional $23 in external grant funding, further fueling their lifesaving work. In other words, after donor funding has allowed their work to flourish, they’re empowered to seek and win larger grants to make an even bigger impact and follow the thread of innovation they’re chasing.

“But the true magnitude of that impact is much greater than the $23,” said Mukund Seshadri, DDS, PhD, Co-Chair of the Scientific Advisory Committee, Associate Director of Cancer Research Training and Education Coordination and Chair of the Department of Oral Oncology. “It has allowed people to pursue ideas, it has allowed us to develop and move things forward. Maybe therapies that would have still been in the lab somewhere are actually now in clinical trials that we’re running at Roswell Park. An approach to mitigate toxicity in a cancer patient might not have been pursued at all if not for this funding.”

It has allowed people to pursue ideas, it has allowed us to develop and move things forward. Maybe therapies that would have still been in the lab somewhere are actually now in clinical trials that we're running at Roswell Park. An approach to mitigate toxicity in a cancer patient might not have been pursued at all if not for this funding.”

The following research initiative was specifically funded by the generosity of the 2022 Empire State Ride Excelsior riders who raised $20,000 or more and those who donated to their fundraising efforts.

Immuno-Metabolic Regulation in Triple Negative Breast Cancer

Subhamoy Dasgupta, PhD, and Scott Abrams, PhD

Breast cancer detection and treatment continues to improve, but in too many cases for patients with triple negative breast cancer, the cancer returns in an aggressive, metastatic form where therapeutic options are severely limited. The cancer cells in these situations have developed strategies to adapt and evade the immune system, enabling them to become more aggressive.

One way the cancer grows is by increasing a specific metabolic enzyme that can act as a driver of this variant. When there is more of this enzyme, there is poorer survival. In contrast, metastasis to the lungs and lymph nodes are significantly less when the enzyme is reduced.

Drs. Dasgupta and Abrams, along with their team, hope to uncover the intricacies of how this enzyme drives the growth of triple negative breast cancer by suppressing immunity so we can ultimately learn how to stop it with new therapeutic combinations.

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 empirestateride@roswellpark.org 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
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.

Camping at ESR: What you need to know

Empire State Ride is just around the corner, and riders are in for the journey of a lifetime. Not only are road warriors advancing cancer research from the seat of their bikes, but they’re also taking on a unique cycling challenge. If you’re anything like Maria Coccia-Bourgeois, you’re going to learn a lot during your week on the road.

“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."

If you’re a first-time road warrior or thinking about becoming one next year, you may be wondering what to expect at camp. After a long day of riding, there’s no better feeling than freshening up and getting settled in for the night. By familiarizing yourself with the schedule and resources, you can make the most out of your camping experience.

Here’s a quick snapshot of what to expect.

🚲Your experience Includes:

  • No-hassle tent camping, including tent, chair, air mattress, clean towels and daily delivery of your luggage
  • Shower truck, restrooms, bike truck and mechanics support
  • The ESR HUB, a central location for rider information, beverages, snacks, first-aid supplies, sunscreen, and cue sheets.
  • Wellness support, including first-aid and physical therapists as well as optional massages at riders’ expense
  • Catered breakfast and dinner with consideration for dietary restrictions
  • Charging stations for devices
  • Nightly mission-based programs
  • Hammocks and lawn games
Picture showing an ESR tent and chair
Picture showing the inside of an ESR tent

🚲Schedule

The last rest stop closes at 3 p.m. each day. Dinner starts at 5:30 p.m. with the nightly program at 6:15 p.m. that unites everyone around our shared mission to end cancer. Then, you have free time until 10 p.m. when quiet hours begin. You can use that time to enjoy our evening reception, chat with other riders or just unwind while reflecting on the day.

🚲 Camp Locations

ESR Map of camps

Orientation Day: July 20, 2024 — Wagner College, Staten Island

CAMP: Wagner College
1 Campus Rd, Staten Island, NY 10301

Day 1: July 21 — Somers Intermediate School, Somers

240 US-202
Somers, NY 10589

Day 2: July 22, 2024 — Dutchess County Fairgrounds, Rhinebeck

6636 U.S. 9
Rhinebeck, NY 12572

Day 3: July 23, 2024 — Shaker Heritage Society, Albany

25 Meeting House Rd
Albany, NY 12211

 

Day 4: July 24, 2024 — Donovan Middle School, Utica

Oneida County

1701 Noyes St, Utica, NY 13502

Day 5: July 25, 2024 — Weedsport Speedway, Weedsport

1 Speedway Drive #415
Weedsport, NY 13166

Day 6: July 26, 2024 — Ferris Goodrich American Legion, Spencerport

691 Trimmer Road
Spencerport, NY 14559

Day 7: July 27, 2024 — Finish Line in Niagara Falls, NY

101 Old Falls Street
Niagara Falls, NY 14303

“Camp is part of the camaraderie that makes ESR so special. It’s a great way to meet other riders and hear why people are there.”

“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.”

Thinking about tackling this summer adventure in 2024? Register today or read more.