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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.’”

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.

🚲 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.

ESR Rider Spotlight: Phil Zodda

Meet Phil Zodda, Athlete and dragon slayer

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

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

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

The Origins of Dragon Slaying

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

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

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

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

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

phil's Background

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

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

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

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

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

Join Phil at this year’s Empire State Ride. 

ESR rider spotlight: Diana Flores

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

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

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

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

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

From cancer survivor to cancer warrior

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

“Movement is medicine,” Diana says.

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

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

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

On Empire State Ride

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

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

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

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

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

Join Diana at this year’s Empire State Ride. 

Volunteer feature: Meet Ken

Meet Ken Flynn

Meet Dax, Ken’s four-legged road warrior

It’s a tall ask for someone to take a full week off work to join the Empire State Ride team on the road, but 46-year-old Ken Flynn doesn’t mind one bit. For him, it’s a family affair. His wife, Amy, tackles ESR as a road warrior, and Ken follows her from stop to stop with their golden retriever, Dax (above). They bring their camper, and Ken helps the ESR team while his wife is riding.

We sat down (virtually!) with Ken to hear his reasons for getting involved.

Q&A

Why do you volunteer for Empire State Ride?

I volunteer to be a supportive partner for my wife on a quest that means so much to her.

How did you get started with Empire State Ride?

My best friend knows Terry Bourgeois and told my wife and me about the ride. My wife and friend, Ben, planned to do the ride together in 2020; Ben’s wife and I planned to volunteer for the week while they were on the road. Ben, unfortunately, had to back out, but my wife was committed. 

She rides for her mother and her aunts who battled various forms of cancer. She lost her one aunt to pancreatic cancer.

What do your accommodations look like for the week?

I pull along our camper for a comfortable bed and air-conditioning at night. I even purchased a new truck to make it easier to tow my RV.

Why did you decide to come back again this year?

My wife and I both said this was going to be a one and done thing. That idea lasted about two days. It has turned into so much more than just volunteering for a week on the road. We have made incredible new friends and heard amazing stories that keep us coming back to help. The riders are truly amazing!

What’s one memory you have from being on the road?

The Regulators (left) are a team that came together last year that generally brings up the rear of the pack, coming in late almost every day. This team stayed at the back and helped so many who were struggling. Because of them, every one of these struggling riders was able to overcome and conquer the road. Seeing this is another reason why I have to come back for more.

What are you most looking forward about this year’s event?

Last year, I met so many great people, many of whom were survivors or currently battling cancer. The stories, emotions, people, food and overall cause is what makes it easy to return as a volunteer again in 2022.

Any last thoughts?

Nothing was going to stop me from volunteering for such an important cause. All I had to do was put in for vacation time.

 

Luckily, you don’t have to put in for vacation time to get involved as a volunteer for Empire State Ride. Volunteers are needed daily on the route, and you can sign up for a shift that fits your life. Learn more and sign up below.

Join Ken at this year’s Empire State Ride. 

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