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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.

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

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

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

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

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

BillyTheKid

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

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.

ESR myHUB App

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 empirestateride@roswellpark.org

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.

Team spotlight: the Regulators

Meet the Regulators

port x logistics logo

"Ohana means family, and family means nobody gets left behind or forgotten."

Each Empire State Ride road warrior who tackles the adventure in July hopes to glean something different from riding their bike 500+ miles across New York State. For those on Team Regulators, it comes down to raising funds for cancer research and having fun while doing it.

“We’re just a band of misfits,” said Josh Lundquist, a founding member of the Regulators. “We’re all the non-super-serious cyclists who go to have a good time. We goof around; we pick on each other. It’s all in good fun to get your mind off some of the daunting hills and long days. Through that, we’ve made lifelong friends.”

The Regulators, led by 2024 team captain Amy Flynn, has become one of Empire State Ride’s largest teams, with 16 cyclists on last year’s roster. The growth can be attributed to a variety of factors, but one comes up time and time again: “picking up strays,” a term they use endearingly.

As a no-drop group, the Regulators often quote the Disney classic Lilo and Stitch as they pick up riders in need of motivation, making sure that nobody gets left behind or forgotten. Why? Because that’s what family does, and through the years, the Regulators have become just that: family. They do their best to make sure cyclists who take on the adventure solo or fall behind their group aren’t alone. As long as riders don’t mind the banter, they have a place with the Regulators.

“We come in last for two reasons. One: Because it’s not a race, and we want to have fun and enjoy every single mile that we’re out there. Two: We really don’t leave anyone behind,” said Shelley Unocic, a long-time member of the Regulators. “You ride as fast as the slowest person who’s going to stay in that group with you.”

Riding with Purpose

Two members of the Regulators fist bump during day seven of the 2023 Empire State Ride

The Regulators often joke that they aren’t the fastest team (often self-declared dead last), but they have grit and a fierce passion for riding to end cancer. In fact, their team was the third top team last year, raising more than $106K for cancer research at Roswell Park and beyond.

For Shelley, being a part of the Empire State Ride movement is a chance to make a lasting difference in the mission to end cancer.

One fact that motivates her, in particular, is that for every dollar donated to ESR, Roswell Park is able to leverage an additional $23 from external grants toward cancer research. That means donations have a huge impact on the future of cancer care, paving the way for innovative new treatment options.

Shelley has helped the Regulators become a fundraising powerhouse with her unique ideas, unbeatable drive and passion for the cause. Not only do these riders stay in contact year-round, but they fundraise together. The Regulators have found great success in unique fundraising methods like hosting a hockey tournament, working concessions at the Buffalo Bills games and encouraging riders to use their unique talents for the cause.

“We fundraise together as a team, and it makes life easier,” Josh says.

How Josh Got Started on the Regulators

Josh with his family and best friend, fellow ESR rider, Mike.

Like so many riders, the cancer cause is highly personal to each member of the Regulators. For Josh, ESR first became a thought when he saw an ad during a Buffalo Sabres game.

“I said to my friend Mike, ‘Listen, when I’m fully recovered, we’re going to do this.’ And he looked at me and goes, ‘Are you serious?’”

Josh was serious. At that time, he was battling a rare form of testicular cancer, a diagnosis he received after dealing with continued kidney pain. In the emergency room, he learned he had a tumor the size of a softball that wrapped around his aorta, vena cava and the ureter to his left kidney.

Josh explained that his particular type of cancer doubles in size every 11 days. To stop the progression, he went through six rounds of chemo over the course of about four months and had his kidney removed.

“I had my last treatment on Christmas Eve. The next Friday, I put my ice skates back on and played hockey. I just wasn’t going to let cancer take me away from me.”

Not long after, he and Mike, his friend of 20 years, signed up for ESR together. They’ve been an integral part of the ESR community ever since.

Shelley’s Inspiration for Riding

When Shelley Unocic first heard of ESR, she doubted whether or not she had what it took to ride 500+ miles across New York State. She questioned, “I was in my mid-40s. I am not an athlete. I’m just an average mom.” Soon she would learn, she is anything but average.

She mustered up the courage in 2020 to sign up. She was ready for the experience of a lifetime. Then, COVID-19 hit, and the ride she had envisioned was no longer an option. Still, that didn’t keep her from raising money and putting in the miles. She took part in the Hometown Challenge that year, and in 2021, she was finally able to get the full seven-day ESR experience.

“It was life changing. I thought I was one and done, and now I’m in year five and will probably ride ESR until I can’t ride my bike anymore,” said Shelley.

Like so many ESR road warriors, Shelley too has a connection to the cancer cause.

“My father-in-law passed away from esophageal cancer. By the time he had been diagnosed, it was stage 4. They gave him two months to two years to live. He lasted 12 months, and it was eleven months of hell.”

While her efforts through ESR couldn’t have saved her father-in-law, she knows that being a part of this movement is changing the future of cancer care … and that keeps her going.

ESR’s 10th Anniversary

An ESR jersey saying 500+ miles, 7 days, one mission

2024 marks 10 years of ESR. When asked if they’d be there for the milestone, neither Josh or Shelley hesitated.

“I wouldn’t miss it for the world. ESR has become a staple in our life,” said Josh. “We rode with Terry when we found out we hit $1 million for cancer research. That kind of stuck with me, and I want to be there for when we hit the next milestone and the next milestone.”

Shelley added, “The 10th anniversary just speaks volumes to Terry’s vision and how far it’s come. The fact that so many of us have been able to be on that journey for so many years and get it to where it is, is a special feeling. I tell people this event is a life-changing event. It certainly changed my life.”

JOIN THE REGULATORS FOR THE 10TH ANNIVERSARY OF EMPIRE STATE RIDE

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 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.

Sincerely,

Terry Bourgeois, ESR Founder

How ESR is fueling the next breakthrough in cancer care

Dr. Joyce Ohm talks about going for $10 million for the 10th anniversary

Empire State Ride is on the cusp of something extraordinary: $10 million in 10 years. 

This year marks the 10th anniversary of Empire State Ride (ESR), and our goal is to reach a collective $10 million. Over the last decade, ESR has already played a significant role in redefining cancer care and paving the way for the next generation of treatments. But we can’t stop until we get everyone across the finish line. 

Learn more about the incredible projects funded through ESR. 

Meet Dr. Joyce Ohm

Dr. Ohm at ESR
Dr. Ohm at ESR.

Joyce Ohm, Ph.D., has participated in five Empire State Ride events, and she sees the fundraising dollars at work every day. She serves as the chair of the Department of Cancer Genetics and Genomics at Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center

“$10 million in 10 years is going to get us to new discoveries, new experiments, new drugs, new treatments, new cures for our patients that are going to help them move forward,” said Dr. Ohm.

She explained that while researchers have made tremendous progress in developing and implementing new therapies for many of the more common types of cancer, there are still complex, aggressive cases for all cancers and a wide range of rare tumors for which little progress has been made over the last 40 years.

“These include cancer types like pediatric sarcoma and pancreatic cancer,” said Dr. Ohm. “Research is desperately needed in these areas to help us understand what makes these cancers unique, how they evade immune surveillance and how the tumors evolve and become resistant to therapy.”

Advances in those critical areas depend on research — and research is funded through donor dollars.

$1 to $23

Roswell Park has the best and brightest researchers and doctors who have come from around the world to dedicate their lives to studying and treating cancer. Donations to Roswell Park through ESR enable breakthrough cancer discoveries and bring new treatments from the bench (lab) to the bedside (patients).

In 2023, we proudly announced that for every dollar donated to cancer research, Roswell Park is now able to leverage an additional $23 from external grants.

“It’s not a magical match, but instead a lot of hard work, and none of it happens without events like the Empire State Ride,” said Dr. Ohm.

What’s Next

As an ESR road warrior, from the seat of your bike, you’re making a difference in cancer as we know it. Hitting the $10 million milestone in 2024 signifies our commitment to the mission to end cancer, as we ride in solidarity with and for the patients of today and tomorrow.

“While I can’t predict what the next big advance will be, it is likely to be due to advances in our understanding of the genetic and molecular drivers of tumor initiation and evolution. Novel immunotherapy approaches like CAR T-Cell Therapy are expected to play a big role,” said Dr. Ohm. “This is how the Empire State Ride will have an impact on our patients for years and decades to come.”

ESR rider badge saying "Why I Ride"

eBikes at Empire State Ride

Empire State Ride is an endurance event that challenges riders over the course of 500+ miles. Some riders may want to complete that journey on an eBike. The good news is that class 1, pedal assist eBikes are allowed on the Empire State Ride route. To ensure a safe and positive ride experience, however, there are some factors you should consider.

Types of eBikes

Riders at ESR

During Empire State Ride, you will be cycling along a variety of different road types. Bike paths are included in our routes, so our permits only allow for class 1 pedal assist eBikes. All others are NOT permitted.

When selecting an eBike, make sure that it is a durable road bike, made for longer distances and is Underwriters Laboratories approved (UL label). Price is a gauge of quality. eBikes for less than $800 will not last on the ESR. Having a high-quality eBike will keep you safe on the road and prevent a wide range of mechanical issues that could hinder your seven-day adventure.

Prior to hitting the road, get plenty of training on your eBike to ensure you’re comfortable riding it, charging it and changing the battery.

Charging Your eBike

It is up to the rider to monitor their own charging progress.

On the Road  

Empire State Ride is a seven-day adventure. Each day’s route will vary with the shortest ride day being 50-60 miles and the longest day covering 100 miles. One battery/charge will likely not be sufficient to get you through the day. In some cases, riders may need two or three batteries for days with longer mileage. If you bring a second battery, you will need to carry it with you during the ride and have a plan as to when you will change it on the route.

At Rest Stops

eBikes cannot be charged at rest stops along the Empire State Ride route. 

At Camp

Charging stations will be available at camp each night during Empire State Ride. eBikes without removable battery packs are not recommended, as we cannot guarantee that our charging stations at each camp will be near the bike racks.

Riders at sunset on ESR

Glitches Along the Way

SAG and mechanics crews will be available to assist you with a flat tire, should one develop. If your eBike requires specific tools, be sure to bring them with you on your ride, and we’ll assist to the best of our ability. While our mechanics are extremely well-equipped, we may have to lean on the help of bike shops along the route to accommodate the unique needs of each bike. If your eBike requires a rare part, we will do our best to find a loaner bike so you can keep your momentum going.

Still have questions about bringing your eBike? Contact our team at empirestateride@roswellpark.org.