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Team spotlight: the Regulators

Meet the Regulators

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"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

Meet first-time ESR road warrior Laura Jean

Her Journey from Kidney Donor to Road Warrior

For aspiring Empire State Ride road warrior, Laura Jean, this July will look much different than it did just a year ago. She’s set her sights on riding 500+ miles from Staten Island to Niagara Falls for the first time ever. Already, Laura’s envisioning the roar of the crowd at the finish line and the smiling faces waiting to greet her at the end of her weeklong journey.

“I’m an emotional person, so I can guarantee that I’ll probably be sobbing. It’ll be part of the accomplishment: seeing a lot of friends and family and knowing the difference that I’ve made.” She smiles and adds, “and then, I’ll probably feel pure exhaustion, too.”

Of course, that exhaustion will be a different kind of fatigue than what she felt last year.

An act of heroism

On July 11, 2022, Laura lay in the recovery room of her local hospital following a surgery to remove her kidney. Though she is the picture of health, she had committed to donating her kidney — to a perfect stranger.

Prior to the procedure, Laura never once met her recipient, Elena DePaolo. In fact, Laura had come to learn about Elena’s story through Facebook. She considered helping at first, but then Elena’s story disappeared, and Laura assumed she had found a match. Then, a few months later, the story resurfaced. Laura dug a little deeper and saw that she and Elena shared many things in common — like their hometown and several mutual friends, just to name a couple. What was serendipitous about all of this was that both women are adoptive mothers.

Laura Kashishian lies in the hospital before her surgery to remove and donate her kidney

“I just felt really connected at that moment, and I thought that I had to give it a try. By the end of the month, I had reached out to start the process of donating my kidney,” Laura says.

To many, Laura’s act of heroism in the face of a call for help is one for the headlines. For the 40-year-old Niagara Falls native, however, it’s the story of how a stranger became a close friend.

Laura and Elena had a chance to meet in the hospital following the procedure, and now the two regularly get together for coffee or playdates for their kids.

“I met her the day after my transplant, and it was really emotional.” Elena says about their encounter. “When someone does something for you and you can never repay them, all you can think is, ‘She saved my life.’”

“There were lots of hugs and tears and a lot of emotion,” Laura says.

Elena recalls the first time Laura came to her house after the surgery to meet her three-year-old son. “He warmed right up to Laura the first time she came over. He was playing dinosaurs with her, and you could tell he knew she was a good person.”

Now, Laura’s planning to dedicate her Empire State Ride to end cancer to two people: Her mom, who was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2021, and her new friend Elena, whose battle with acute lymphoblastic leukemia started in 2016.

Laura and Elena smile for the camera
Laura and Elena meet in the hospital for the first time after their surgeries. Laura donated a kidney to Elena. Context.
Laura and Elena stand in front of a Spiderman birthday display. Filler image

Elena’s Cancer Journey, from Her Perspective

Elena’s journey has had many twists and turns. While trying to start a family, she learned she had a condition that caused the organs on the left side of her body to be underdeveloped. Her left kidney had never worked.

Then, she learned she had acute lymphoblastic leukemia, and she turned to Roswell Park. Her doctors immediately took action to combat the blood cancer. As part of her treatment, Elena received a stem cell transplant in October 2016. She was put on an anti-rejection medication so the transplant would take. It did, and the treatments proved effective for the cancer. Elena entered remission.

But her pre-existing condition, the cancer journey and her attempts to get pregnant took a toll on Elena’s body.

In 2017, Elena was diagnosed with stage 3 kidney disease, which progressed over several years into end-stage kidney disease. She started dialysis in March 2022 and held her breath in the hopes of finding a donor. But Elena was determined to find one. She put up flyers and went on every major news station that would have her to ask if anyone would be willing to donate. When she posted the story on Facebook, everyone in her community reshared the message.

When Elena finally did connect with a potential donor, the opportunity quickly fell through. So, by the time Elena learned she had another donor, she was skeptical.

“When they called me for the second time, I was afraid to be too excited. I didn’t tell anyone for a really long time,” Elena said.

When she met Laura after the surgery, however, her feelings had transformed. “When Laura walked in, I cried. I just felt like this complete stranger, who lived in the same town as me, helped me. It was like I met my angel.”

A Full-Circle Moment for Laura

For many, going through a major operation may warrant a little time off. For Laura, on the other hand, it was grounds to sign up for something big and challenging. Out of everything Laura is looking forward to this July during Empire State Ride, she hopes seeing Elena at the finish line will be a full-circle moment for both of them. She also hopes to inspire others to consider organ donation.

“I’m just hoping that people are able to see that you can go back to normal life after donating a kidney, and it’s a great gift to be able to give someone,” Laura said.

On Fundraising and the Road Ahead

Now, training and fundraising are in full effect for Laura. Though she originally worried about hitting the $3,500 fundraising minimum, it proved to be easier than anticipated. She’s already exceeded her original goal. She thanks her family, friends and the owner of a local small business for supporting her on her mission to make a difference.

Come July, she’ll be dedicating her ride to countless loved ones who’ve been affected by cancer, and she’ll wear their names on a custom jersey.

As for the Empire State Ride community right now? Laura says they’re already making her feel welcome.

“I’ve joined the Facebook group, so I can already gather the sense of community that this event brings. I’m really excited to get to meet some of the people that I’ve been interacting with on that site!”

Will you join Laura in her mission to give back?

Join Laura at #ESR23

Rider Spotlight: Meet BillytheKid

Meet BillytheKid

Here, Billy talks about the family business, being on the road for ESR and his journey with thyroid cancer

You’ll see BillytheKid Klein on the road during Empire State Ride sporting a large red nose and a sly smile. If you ask him about his nickname, he’ll tell you it’s just who he is. His family called five-year-old Billy by that name, and he now uses that name for all his businesses. He even signs his checks with a little running man heart and BillytheKid — anything to make people smile.

Billy lives on a large farm in rural Pennsylvania, where he’s resided for more than 45 years with his family, raising horses. His daughter won two world championships and a reserve in equine competition during her youth. When Billy and his wife retired from breeding stallions, they shifted their focus to more sentimental occasions: weddings. They acquired carriages and started a business that takes brides to the altar — in true Cinderella-style. The pair has several Victorian outfits and top hats that they wear to give the carriage ride a more magical feel.

“Taking a father and daughter to the altar for the ceremony and hearing their intimate talk and seeing the tears, and then, 25 minutes later, taking her to start her new life with her new groom — I would do that for nothing, just to experience it,” he said proudly.

Billy’s Cancer Journey

On a sunny day in New York City, Billy sat in a large waiting room of a local hospital. As he looked out over the East River, a group of people close by started talking about cycling. Billy’s ears perked up when he heard them mention a tour that went from Staten Island to Niagara Falls. He grabbed a seat next to them and started asking questions about the adventure. They pointed him to the Empire State Ride website, where Billy learned about the 500+ miles it took to get from one end of New York to the other, the road warriors who make it happen and the critical funds raised for cancer research.

“You’re in a certain state of mind when you’re in a hospital and with other people who share your problems,” he said. “Something really clicked. I felt chills reading the stories, seeing the testimonials. I was hooked. I did all the research I could and said, ‘I’m in!’

Cycling is a big part of Billy’s life, but the thought of riding between 70 and 100 miles per day seemed like a whole new ballgame. Embarking on Empire State Ride in honor of cancer patients felt like a challenge that he needed to take on to help others and honor his own story.

Billy’s cancer journey started in 2014 when he found himself more congested than usual. His doctors sent him for a chest X-ray, and that’s when they made a startling discovery: Billy had thyroid cancer. He soon had a full thyroidectomy followed by a round of radioactive isotopes to wipe out the residual cancer. For a while, that was it. They monitored Billy closely for five years.

Then, in January 2019, Billy’s doctors ran a round of tests that showed poorly differentiated thyroid cancer — cancer cells that don’t look like normal cancer cells. He began treatment again but soon became iodine resistant. The cancer started to grow, and it hasn’t stopped.

Billy’s First Empire State Ride

BilltheKid holds up a tribute card on the road during the 2022 Empire State Ride
Billy stands nose to nose with another ESR rider.

Billy’s own cancer journey, and those of his loved ones, made his commitment to participating in the 2022 Empire State Ride even more meaningful. But it’s the experience that Billy had on the road that sold him on hitting the road again this year for #ESR23.

“It was life-changing,” he said. “You know how you go to a concert or a movie that’s so great you don’t want it to end? You don’t look at your watch. You don’t want to know the time. Well, that’s the feeling I had the last day of ESR.”

Billy raves about the community of people that he was surrounded by as he rode the 500+ miles across the state. Despite some riders being younger and having better endurance, Billy said people really looked out for him and helped him complete the mileage.

Billy wears his clown nose

“The amount of support from others … I mean, they knew I was the old guy and they put me in a slipstream and surrounded me to protect me,” he said. “I just so appreciated that. It really helped me feel like part of the group.”

On Fundraising

As for the fundraising, Billy said he really felt intimidated by having to raise $3,500 when he first signed up. Many of his friends were retired and on strict budgets. So, he started by asking for small amounts and he kept asking everyone he knew. Before he knew it, he’d hit his goal. Then, on the road, Billy would share his daily progress. Once people saw firsthand what Billy was doing, even more donations rolled in.

“I put in a report every night to my contributors on Facebook,” he said. “Money just started flowing in. It was overwhelming. I went to sleep crying every night because I was so touched.”

As for fundraising for 2023, Billy sought out an endowment from a local Jewish organization. He presented about the impact Empire State Ride has on cancer, and they offered a $3,000 donation. Now, he plans to raise his goal and keep going for a cause that’s helping other survivors and thrivers just like him.

“My grandfather used to say a dollar is made up of 100 pennies. That's really kind of what Empire State Ride is, you know? It takes a lot of $25 bills to add up, but to just sit back and watch it grow is astounding. I choke up every time I think about it.”

Learn more about where the funds go below and register today!

BillytheKid's new ride for 2023

How ESR impacts cancer research across the nation (and the globe)

If you’re reading this, there’s a good chance you’ve committed to riding Empire State Ride this year or you’re thinking about tackling this adventure of a lifetime soon. ESR has strong New York ties, particularly Western New York, the home of Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center. 

But what if your out-of-state donors or your prospective donors don’t have those same ties? Maybe they’ve never stepped foot in Buffalo, but they’re passionate about finding cures for cancer or they’re simply interested in supporting endeavors you’re passionate about.  Maybe you’re from out of state and are looking for a way to explain your impact. 

Here's what you can tell donors about the impact you’re making through ESR.

1.

When you make a gift to support Roswell Park through ESR, you’re ultimately making a worldwide impact.

Through regional, national and global collaboration, the funds that come to Roswell Park go into efforts that will change the way we prevent, diagnose and treat cancers of all kinds everywhere. After all, we’re all on the same side in the fight against cancer.

Rider holds gratitude banner with all her loved ones on it and the ESR sign in the background

2.

Donations fuel cancer research at Roswell Park. That research can be done by small local teams or larger, collaborative teams.

Either way, if the studies bring incredible discoveries (as they often do), that research leaves the lab and enters the realm of clinical trials which expand to reach patients everywhere. Still other research contributes to growing pools of data that scientists all over can learn from as our experts at Roswell Park make sense of what they’re finding hidden in our genes and in our immune systems.

A sign honoring loved ones affected by cancer

3.

Many clinical trials at Roswell Park are funded by donor support.

While every trial starts small, careful study brings those trials to patients in Western New York and then beyond. Clinical trials reach cancer centers all over, meaning they reach patients all over, bringing those promising treatments to people who are searching for hope in the toughest times of their lives. International partnerships in clinical trials have brought treatments developed by Roswell Park investigators to Australia, Canada, Cuba, China and beyond.

ESR rider holds sign at finish line in Niagara Falls

4.

The comprehensive cancer center in your region may have collaborated with Roswell Park on lifechanging work.

One easy way to start looking into that is through a simple search on Roswell Park’s website and the website of your local center.

Rider points to the back of his jersey, which honors loved ones affected by cancer

Looking forward

East coast, west coast, northern or southern hemisphere; any effort to better understand and more effectively treat and cure cancer is good news for all of us. Thank you, wholeheartedly, for joining us in this mission to end cancer as we know it. For good. Everywhere.

Rider Spotlight: Alan Kurtz

Meet ESR Road Warrior Alan Kurtz

Alan talks about the Hometown Challenge, overcoming obstacles and honoring 75+ loved ones

Alan Kurtz, 64, sits in front of a wall of race T-shirts, all cut down to squares and stitched together into a quilt that speaks to his lifelong passion. In front of them rests his road bike, a towel draped over the handlebars from his most recent ride. Running has always been at the center of Alan’s life. He’s completed seven marathons and qualified for the Boston Marathon — one of the world’s most prestigious and competitive running events. He ran the 26.2 miles with pride despite a sprained ankle. Later in life, he began competing in triathlons, which brought him into the world of cycling. Once he discovered Empire State Ride, the rest was history.

WHY EMPIRE STATE RIDE MATTERS

Image shows the back of Alan's custom jersey with the names of 75 people lost to cancer.

Like many, Alan has a personal connection to the cancer cause. He lost his father to cancer in 1984, and since then, he’s constantly sought out ways to honor his father’s memory. Walks and short races to raise money weren’t for Alan; he wanted something that would challenge him and combine his love of endurance sports. That’s when he saw a suggestion on Facebook for a 7-day bike tour. He clicked through, learned about the Empire State Ride and read that it supported clinical trials and cancer research at Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center. He knew he had to become a road warrior.

In 2017, Alan embarked on a journey of a lifetime to end cancer, joining his fellow road warriors in tackling the 500+ miles from New York City to Niagara Falls. He’s been involved with the event ever since. Along the way, he has honored his father’s 56-year legacy, as well as a growing list of other loved ones affected by cancer: his mother who passed away in 2018, his mother-in-law who passed away in 2016, his father-in-law who passed away in 2020, his uncle who lost his battle in 2022 and 71 others affected by various forms of cancer.

Alan also honors his own battle with prostate cancer after receiving a diagnosis this past year.

With cancer affecting so many facets of Alan’s life, he knew he’d keep coming back to Empire State Ride year over year. Of course, life sometimes has other plans.

RIDING THROUGH IT ALL

A global pandemic, the loss of loved ones, hip surgery and other obstacles have kept Alan from joining his fellow road warriors on the road in recent years. But that hasn’t stop him from participating. He’s completed the Empire State Ride 500+ Mile Hometown Challenge multiple times, always finding new and innovative ways to cover the distance.

This past year, Alan rode up the eastern seaboard of his home state of Florida over the course of seven days. He charted out a course that traveled along the east coast from his home near West Palm Beach, finishing up just north of Jacksonville, booking hotel rooms each night along the way. His wife followed him on his journey, meeting him at preset rest stops (with nutrition and hydration) and the “finish line” in front of each hotel.

Along the way, Alan took in the sights, including a statue of a tin man, piglets, Daytona Speedway and a PGA tournament golf course.

“It was beautiful. I’ve seen many parts of Florida driving, but riding it just gives you a whole new perspective. You can take in so much of the scenery: the local developments and real estate, the river, along the Intercoastal Waterway and, of course, the beach. It was really just a great ride. I’m glad I did it.”

For the challenge, he had two jerseys designed. One jersey indicated that his “Sunshine State Ride” was in support of the Empire State Ride; the other included the names of 75 people who motivate and inspire him to ride, a list that is not comprehensive.

“They are not alone,” Alan says. “More than anything, they (and numerous others) are why I ride!”

ALAN'S ADVICE ON THE HOMETOWN CHALLENGE

The beauty of the 500+ Mile Hometown Challenge is that you can log the miles on your terms while still raising funds for the same impactful cause. You can ride anywhere in the world and break up the miles however you choose during the month of July (or beyond).

“If this is a cause that you really believe in and you want to do something about it but can’t afford to go on the road, the Hometown Challenge is your best opportunity to do it,” Alan says. “It’s not that hard if you put your mind to it.”

Here are some of the great benefits you’ll get when you sign up for the challenge:

  • A private Facebook group with fellow riders to connect, share advice and ask questions
  • The new ESR myHUB app
  • Access to experts, including a fundraising coordinator, cycling coach and more
  • Fundraising tools to help you meet and exceed your personal goal
  • Challenge to track your miles during the month of July
  • Rewards to celebrate your milestones
  • A team of other cyclists from around the world, ready to take on this adventure with you

“ESR, to me, is not only about the challenge; more importantly, it’s about the cause. Figure out what you’re comfortable with, get dedicated, get motivated and get out there and do it,” Alan says. “You will get better, you will get more comfortable, and you’ll be able to go farther. It’s not about speed, but you will find yourself going faster, and you’ll find yourself just loving it.”

JOIN ALAN AT THIS YEAR'S RIDE — IN PERSON OR VIRTUALLY

Get the Empire State Ride Fundraising App

Enhance your fundraising with the ESR MyHub App.

Riding 500+ miles across New York State makes you a road warrior; raising critical funds for cancer research makes you a champion.

Let the ESR MyHUB app supercharge your fundraising efforts and get you ready for your Empire State Ride adventure.

This is an image of the ESR myHUB app home screen.
This image shows another screen capture of the ESR myHUB app homepage.

Here are some of the great things you can do with the app!

  • Personalize your fundraiser and track your fundraising progress
  • Accept in-person check donations with state-of-the-art scanning technology and bank-grade security feature
  • Send emails or SMS messages to your contacts asking for support and donations
  • Connect the app to your activity tracker. Earn badges and compete against fellow road warriors in fitness and fundraising challenges
  • Integrate with your ESR fundraising dashboard and Facebook fundraiser
  • Share your page on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn
  • And much more!

How to get started.

The ESR MyHUB app is free to download in the App Store or Google Play. Search for “ESR MyHUB” wherever you download apps.

Use the User Name and Password that you set up to log into your Fundraising Dashboard. After your first login, you can also use facial recognition to get into your account.

If you have any questions about the fundraising app, please contact us!

Email: EmpireStateRide@RoswellPark.org  Phone: 716-845-3179

And for more fundraising tools, visit our fundraising page!

Curious about where the funds go?

ESR road warrior Dr. Joyce Ohm weighs in.

Your fundraising for Empire State Ride has a significant impact on cancer care and treatment at Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center. Few know that better than four-time ESR road warrior Joyce Ohm, PhD, Interim Chair of Cancer Genetics and Genomics. Not only is Dr. Ohm out on the road every July with Empire State Ride — fighting hills, weather and fatigue as she bikes from Staten Island to Niagara Falls—but she’s also in the lab at Roswell Park, fighting to find cures for all types of cancer. 

 

We sat down with Dr. Ohm to ask a few questions and learn more about the impact of the funds raised through Empire State Ride.

Joyce stands side by side with a fellow road warrior at Wagner College this past July.

Q: Tell us a little about yourself and your role at Roswell Park.

A: I’m a scientist at Roswell Park, so I’m someone who does research for a living. This is what I do, and it’s what I believe in. It is amazing to see riders put a tremendous amount of trust in us — it really is a special, amazing thing to think about. I cannot imagine what it must be like as an oncologist to say to a patient, ‘I don’t have anything else for you.’ As researchers, that’s our job: We’re there to put new tools in the toolbox. The dollars that go to Roswell Park fund that, especially in three key areas.

Two ESR riders smiling

Q: How has cancer treatment changed over the years?

For 20 years, we had chemotherapy and surgery and radiation. For some patients, that’s all we have still today. But there are new therapies being developed. It’s amazing to watch, just in my short career, how much everything has changed. In fact, we’ve reached a point where we’re really treating individual patients, not cancer as a whole, and that has added years to many patients’ lives.

Q: What are those key areas where the funds go?

A: First, they fund genetic testing and the development of new genetic tests — to help us decide what therapies might work best for our patients and to cover the costs of those tests for people who cannot afford them. The research world is completely different now, and how we treat patients is completely different. Now, we often make decisions about treatment based on genetic markers.

The second place the money goes is to clinical trials. New drugs and new therapies go through a rigorous testing process that takes many years and millions of dollars to get to clinic. We have tons of tools in our toolbox, especially for the more common cancers like breast and lung and colon. But for those rare cancers, like osteosarcomas and pediatric tumors, we don’t have new drugs for patients yet, and we’re working really, really hard to get them. A good chunk of the money raised for ESR goes to fund clinical trials, specifically to help patients who run out of other options. It goes to research teams who are asking cutting-edge questions, who are developing new therapies, who are learning more and more about tumors every day and who are learning how to treat individual patients. All of those dollars really, really pay off.

Then, we bring in federal support, pharmaceutical support and support from outside to really help make those dollars grow. And so, the impact of the dollars raised at Empire State Ride makes a tremendous difference for our patients.

Q: So, what does the future of cancer treatment look like?

A: Immunotherapy, including a really huge area of research at Roswell Park called CAR T-cell therapy, is making tremendous strides for our patients in every disease site that we’ve tested it in. We expect to see impressive changes in the next five to 10 years. There are new targeted therapies every day. So, every time we learn something new about a tumor, we’re able to start to think about ways to treat that and target it. New drugs are in development to achieve that.

Q: How does that all tie back to Empire State Ride?

A: Cancer touches all of us in many, many ways. When you think about what someone with cancer is going through today, you realize that what we struggled with on the road for Empire State Ride is nothing. 

But the fundraising is everything, and it’s making a difference.

Q: What does outside support look like?

Statistically, for every dollar that we raise through events like the Empire State Ride, we’re able to match that by $13*** from external funding, from federal sources and other places. If every dollar that comes in gets magnified by 13, you can start to imagine the tremendous impact that we can have.

I see riders every day and tell them, ‘Those dollars matter. Those $5, $10, $20 donations are going to turn into cures, and they’re going to save lives.’”

*** For years, we’ve told you that your $1 donation can turn into $13 in external funding for cancer research. Now, we’re proud to announce that your $1 donation is now creating $23 in funding. This is thanks to your incredible support and the hard work Roswell Park researchers put in every day to advance new discoveries. Read more about this change

Thinking about joining Dr. Ohm on the road in 2023? Join our mailing list to learn more.

Top fundraisers bring innovative research to the forefront

2021 Top Fundraisers Brought an Innovative New Research Project to Roswell Park

Every year, Empire State Ride brings in funds that are dedicated toward Roswell Park’s mission to continue to uncover better ways to prevent, diagnose and treat all kinds of cancers. Road warriors pave the way for lifechanging new treatments, groundbreaking clinical trials and innovative research and discoveries.

On Sac Grants

Roswell Park is pushing to eliminate cancer’s grip on humanity every day. Over the years, we’ve seen the genesis of groundbreaking and lifesaving advances right here in Buffalo. Those new treatments and findings all have their start with new questions and ideas from Roswell Park scientists.

 

That’s where Roswell Park’s Scientific Advisory Committee (SAC) comes in. Researchers submit their project proposals, all looking to continue to learn more about cancer. Through a competitive and rigorous process, these investigators and their work have been funded. These grants are made possible by the generosity of Roswell Park fundraisers and their donors, without whom, these projects could not get off the ground and make their marks on cancer as we know it.

From Fundraising to research

In 2022, the funds raised by the 2021 top Excelsior fundraisers (those who raised $20,000 or more) for Empire State Ride were put toward one project in particular. These road warriors have empowered Roswell Park to investigate racial health disparities for African American men with prostate cancer in a project led by Anna Woloszynska, PhD, Roswell Park Associate Professor of Oncology in the Department of Pharmacology & Therapeutics.

 

In Western New York, African American men are more likely than other men to have prostate cancer, more likely to have aggressive forms and more likely to lose their battle. Dr. Woloszynska’s research will take a deeper look at these patients’ epigenetic age — a way of determining age not in terms of one’s chronological age or time on Earth, but their biological age, taking into account disease risks and exposures — to determine if their epigenetic age is accelerated and if that contributes to early onset disease in patients younger than 55 years old. The findings will lay the groundwork for discoveries that will hopefully identify higher risk individuals and save more lives, reducing and ultimately eliminating the existing racial health disparity.

Top 2021 Excelsior Fundraisers

This work is made possible by the top ESR 2021 Excelsior fundraisers and their donors:

·         John Arfman

·         Terry Bourgeois

·         David Brown

·         Thomas Flynn

·         Anne Gioia

·         Gary Kuhlmann

·         Jerry Lewandowski

·         Richard Noll

·         Maria Coccia Thor

·         Geoffrey Wilk

 

Because of these riders and everyone who supported them, Roswell Park will be able to gain a deeper understanding of cancer and seek to bridge gaps in healthcare, providing the best possible treatment for every patient. Thanks to road warriors and every person who contributes to Empire State Ride, research like this can continue to move forward, guiding us in the best ways to fight cancer.

Looking forward

In the same way, the 2022 top fundraisers are going to make a direct impact on emerging cancer research at Roswell Park. Keep an eye out for those fundraisers and the work their fundraising will support.

LEarn more 

Homestretch! How to get those last-minute donations.

Your fundraising efforts for Empire State Ride fuel critical research that directly impacts the lives of cancer patients at Roswell Park. As we enter the final weeks before our weeklong challenge, now’s the time to rev up donations to reach your goal in time for the big day. Whether you’ve already passed your goal or you’re almost there, we have you covered with fundraising tips to help you go the distance.

Check out these words of advice from your fellow road warriors.

🚲 leT YOUR DONORS KNOW THEIR IMPACT IS huge.

“From a fundraising standpoint, it’s really important for riders to stress that every dollar you raise gets multiplied by 13***. When you can show that financial impact, it is huge. People buy $10 worth of raffle tickets, for example, and it becomes $130 in grant research dollars. When you start putting it like that, it’s really easy for someone to give that $10. If you give me a hundred dollars, now it becomes $1,300 in grant research money. The power of that is amazing.” 

– Road warrior Shelley Unocic.

*** For years, we’ve told you that your $1 donation can turn into $13 in external funding for cancer research. Now, we’re proud to announce that your $1 donation is now creating $23 in funding. This is thanks to your incredible support and the hard work Roswell Park researchers put in every day to advance new discoveries. 
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🚲 Team together.

“Everyone on our team went out and got donations. We purchased some things on our own and put baskets together. One hundred percent of those proceeds are going back to our team goal.”

– Road warrior Shelley Unocic.

🚲 Give people something in return.

“Try to do things that people can actually get something else out of, as well. Instead of just asking them to hand over a donation, ask them to put money toward a dinner or raffle.”

– Road warrior Erica Pompey

🚲 Don’t be afraid to ask.

“My father always said, ‘If you don’t ask, all they can do is say no.’ Right now, what I do for fundraising for team GBY9 is mail out 400 letters. Anybody that I know gets a letter —my doctor, my lawyer, the cleaners, whoever. Anybody I know will receive a letter. And that’s how I do my fundraising.”

– Road warrior Maria Thor

🚲 Remind people what it’s all about.

“I hit and bring to heart what it is really about. It isn’t really about the cycling, which is the fun part, but it’s about how we support the Roswell Park community and help with the fundraising for the clinical trial processes.”

— Road warrior Richard Noll

 

🚲 Use Your Contacts

“I use a very simple process. What I do is this: Every night at this time of the year, as I’m watching TV, I open my fundraising app and go into my phonebook, and I send personalized text messages with the link. Hey, Steve, it’s Rich. Hope all is well. As you know, this is my fifth year riding for Roswell. I would love your support again. I go through one letter of the alphabet every night. Then I go through my emails. Then I go back, and I start making personal phone calls.”

— Road warrior Richard Noll

However you choose to fundraise, keep the momentum going!

Read more about your impact.

Meet Phil Zodda, ESR road warrior and dragon slayer

Meet the rider who's helping others slay dragons

Phil drinks a Coke during ESR22
Phil Zodda with other riders at the halfway point during ESR22

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

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

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

The Origins of Dragon Slaying

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

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

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

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

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

Phil's Background

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

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

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

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

Join Phil and others on Team Dragon Slayers by registering for Empire State Ride today. Don’t wait — registration is filling up quickly. 

Join Phil at this year’s Empire State Ride. 

Team Dragon Slayers during ESR22 at Rhinebeck