If you’ve been following along here for a while, you’ve probably heard me mention training for the Closer to Free Ride. The Closer to Free Ride is the primary fundraising event for the Smilow Cancer Hospital, where my grandfather was a patient for many years. To say that this hospital is an amazing place is an understatement. The care they offer is outstanding.. not to mention that the doctors, nurses and staff are all incredibly caring and treat their patients like family. When my grandfather passed away in June, I knew that I had to find a way to give back to the place that took such great care of a man I loved so much.
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A few months ago I didn’t even own a bike..but I registered to ride 25 miles, set a fundraising goal for $2,500, and off I went to the store to buy one. I hadn’t ridden a bike in over 10 years, and part of bike shopping involves actually testing out the bike… which was a challenge. I’ve heard people say that you never forget how to ride a bicycle, but I’m not sure that I believe them. After an embarrassing few test rides (where I almost hit multiple PARKED cars… yea.) I ordered the bike and left wondering what the heck I had just gotten myself into. How could I bike 25 miles when I could barely ride across a parking lot?
When my bike finally came in the first week in August, I knew I had to re-teach myself how to ride, build up endurance, and get ready to tackle 25 miles.. with only about a month to do so. This meant that every afternoon after work I would go to my local middle school and ride around the parking lot for about an hour. (I’m not kidding…) I was so afraid of falling that I was riding at about 7mph (which is pretty slow). I think that part of the reason kids can learn how to ride a bike so quickly is because they are fearless. If they fall.. they shake it off and get back on. I was afraid that if I fell.. I wouldn’t be able to get back up, or that I would get really hurt.
Each time I practiced I got a little bit better, until eventually I had built up enough confidence that I was no longer fearful of falling, and couldn’t put off riding on the roads. Similar to how I was afraid of falling.. I was also afraid of biking along side cars. There’s no explanation really needed there. A car, or me on a bike… who would win in the event of an accident? It’s a no brain-er. Regardless of how safe I am, there are people who don’t drive safely. Whether they’re drinking and driving, texting and driving, or just driving like a jerk.. you can’t stop them. I realized that I needed to just get over it and go, so I joined a group training ride in my town, and went every Tuesday leading up until the ride. Those rides were about 12-13 miles each, and went at a moderate pace.
In addition to the group training rides, I would ride on my own once a week for about 15 miles. Even though I trained, I was definitely worried that I would struggle during the ride, because I knew there were a lot of (really steep) hills. Regardless of the progress I had made, every time I got off my bike at the end of a ride I still wondered why I was doing this.
In my heart I knew it was for a good cause, but in reality, I’m not a huge fan of biking. The seats hurt your butt (even with the awesome Coeur Sportswear shorts I had), it takes a lot of time to practice/train (compared to my quick 1 hour lifting sessions), bugs fly in your face, you’re stuck outside in the humidity/heat.. And yea, this was a great cause, and an amazing way to honor my grandfather, but at the end of the day I could raise a billion dollars and he still wouldn’t be there to watch me cross the finish line. I realize now this was the wrong frame of mind, but I was upset, and I couldn’t help it.
Saturday morning came and it was time to go. At the ride I was surrounded by 1,200 other riders, all of different ages, races, shapes and sizes. Our backgrounds were all different, but we were there for the same reason. Cancer had affected each of us in some way. Some were survivors, some were still fighting their battle, some are nurses or doctors providing care to cancer patients and others, like me, were there to honor someone they loved and had lost. It was a beautiful thing to see.
Unlike other races/fitness events, I didn’t go in to this with many expectations. This was a ride, not a race, so there were no times. I just wanted to finish safely and raise as much money as possible for this cause. I won’t bore you too much with the details of the race… but I will tell you about my favorite part.
About 10 minutes into the bike ride, everyone got off their bikes to walk the ‘Smilow Salute’, in front of the hospital. It wasn’t until that moment that everything clicked. In front of the building stood nurses, doctors, patients, and friends of the hospital. They were all cheering and holding up signs that said ‘thank you’ and words of encouragement.
You can train to do a bike ride, but you can’t prepare for something like that.
It was at that moment that everything made sense. This wasn’t about the bike, it wasn’t about the miles. It wasn’t about training. It was about those people. The people sitting outside in hospital gowns. The people wearing masks because their white blood cell count is so low from chemo that being around others could make them very sick. The nurses with signs saying ‘Ride On’. The people wearing ‘Survivor’ jerseys. The patients watching from the windows.
They’re fighting so hard. Fighting for their lives. Fighting to find a cure. Fighting to give their patients the best care on their worst days. Fighting to be Closer to Free.
I finished the ride in about 2 hours. My family and friends were all there to cheer me on as I crossed the finish line. It was an amazing day, and I already can’t wait for next years ride.
Even though this was an amazing experience, I’m not sure that there will come a day when I’m not angry about losing my grandfather to cancer. And I think that’s okay, because cancer sucks. It really, really sucks. This disease may have taken my grandfather, but some day – it won’t exist BECAUSE of events like this.
I have surpassed my fundraising goal of $2,500 and I’m currently at $6,542. Every single dollar is going to cancer research and treatment. I’m hoping to raise $7,000 by the end of the month when fundraising closes. Next year my goal will be $10,000. You can still donate here.
I want to thank Coeur Sportswear for providing me with an amazing outfit to train in. Having padded riding shorts made all the difference in my training. Since I know I will continue to do this ride, I’m going to need more training gear. I know I’ll be purchasing from them in the future.
I also want to thank the following brands who have supported me since my beginnings as a blogger, and in my fundraising efforts. Together they helped me raise over $2,000, which is truly amazing. I’m a firm believer in supporting brands that support charity initiatives, and I can’t thank them enough for their generosity. Please check all of their sites out, and feel free to use any of the coupon codes they have generously offered to our readers.
Simple Squares (20% off: cleaneatingcouple)
Enlightened (20% off: cleaneating)
Rickaroons (15% off: cleaneating)
Fit Snack (Link to sign up with free gym bag)
Powell & Mahoney (20% off: CleanEating)
ALOHA (20% off: CleanEating)