The bond between a father and son is incomparable, and that’s apparent in the admiration Justin Eveland has when sharing memories of his dad.
“The way I would describe my dad is someone who lived for today and not for tomorrow. He was always the life of the party and someone who could make you smile in your worst of times,” Justin stated proudly.
His father, Ken Eveland, worked in law enforcement for almost 40 years. Justin says he was the family organizer, always planning activities to bring people together, including an annual Buffalo Bills bus trip from their hometown of Geneva, New York.
“He had been bringing me to Buffalo Bills games ever since I was just a little guy.”
But, those games, along with other family adventures, would come to an unanticipated pause.
In 2017, Ken was diagnosed with stage IV renal cell carcinoma, a form of kidney cancer.
“What we thought was going to be an in-and-out procedure turned into a more elaborate and elongated issue for our family,” Justin explained.
By 2019, the cancer metastasized to his lung and then to his brain in 2020. Ken is still fighting today.
“For a long time, I have felt very helpless, like I can’t do anything for my dad. I can’t ease his pain,” said Justin.
Driven to make a change, Justin committed to a new challenge. This summer, he’s cycling more than 500 miles to end to cancer.
Becoming an ESR Road Warrior
The Empire State Ride is a week-long bike tour from New York City to Niagara Falls that raises funds to fuel cancer research at Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center.
Justin joined the movement as a first-time rider for #ESR23. With his dad in mind throughout his training, he’s prepared to push himself emotionally and physically along the way.
“I didn’t have a road bike prior to signing up for the Empire State Ride, nor have I really ever ridden probably longer than 10 miles on a bicycle at any given time,” he explained. “But this is what I’m doing to help fight against cancer and maybe one day find a cure.”
For others thinking about joining, Justin echoed the sentiment that riders are not alone.
“The support you receive from the Empire State Ride team and the Empire State Ride community is astounding. There’s a Facebook group, and there are people asking a ton of questions, with veteran riders helping new riders overcome any fear that they might have.”
Fundraising Made Easy
For some first-time riders, hitting the $3,500 fundraising minimum may be intimidating. However, using the tools available and the ESR team, it can be easier than expected. Justin is a great example of this.
By mid-March, four months before the ride, Justin had already raised more than $6,000 — with a personal goal of reaching $7,500.
He says utilizing social media, both Facebook and LinkedIn, has been extremely effective.
“I wanted to make it as personal as possible,” Justin added. “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 leaned on the ESR Facebook group for unique fundraising ideas, and his main piece of advice is: “Don’t be afraid to ask.”
The Finish Line
Justin’s first Empire State Ride is fast approaching, and he’s eager to build friendships at camp and hear other people’s stories. Above all else, he’s already picturing crossing the finish line, alongside riders who share a common goal of ending cancer.
Riding for his father during ESR will be even more meaningful now that he is a dad himself. Justin has two sons: Jonathan and Bennett.
“Someday, I’m certainly looking forward to being able to share the experience with my sons when they’re old enough to understand,” said Justin. “When it’s easy to sit back and do nothing, I think they’ll be proud to know that their dad did something to make a difference.”