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Small But Mighty – Fighting Irish Fighting Cancer Makes an Impact

Picture this – you’re standing in the middle of Carlton Street in downtown Buffalo. You’re wearing your Extra Mile Club jersey, standing with your bike next to 200 other Western New Yorkers. You’re all on the same mission. You turn to face Roswell Park. You hold your tribute card up to the front of the hospital and think of all the patients up there who are receiving treatment. Your mind immediately goes to your friend who had surgery in that very building this morning. Your eyes tear up as it hits you, once again, that this is why you ride.

Sound at all familiar? For Bob Drajem, team captain of Fighting Irish Fighting Cancer, this was his reality at the start of the 2019 Peloton.

“I can’t even talk about it without tearing up,” he said.

That single moment is one of the most powerful of Ride weekend and means so much to so many, including Bob.

“It just hit home to me that here I am, riding this bike, and my buddy was up there having cancer surgery that morning.”

This constant connection to cancer is why Bob and the rest of his team ride every year.

Simple Beginnings Lead to a Big Impact

It all began in 2005. That was the first year that Bob rode, and he did it by himself. After meeting Ride Founder Mitch Flynn, Bob had decided participating in the Ride was something he had to do. He raised $585 that year. His participation and team grew from there.

The team went through several different names (Old Farts Fighting Cancer and Wheel Be There 4 U) before settling on Fighting Irish Fighting Cancer in 2010. Because many of the teams’ members and supporters are somehow related to Notre Dame, the name made sense.

The team comprises all different types of people. Young. Old. Teachers. Fathers. Sons. Grandchildren. Cancer survivors. It’s a tight little group of do-gooders ready to make a difference.

As the team grew, so did the fundraising. in 2008, the team raised $2,700. In 2009, $2,900. Last year, they raised an incredible $31,000, bringing their cumulative fundraising total up to $187,000. To Bob, this means a lot because of the size of the team.

“We are not a big team,” he said. “We are never going to be one of the top 10 teams.”

But to Bob and the rest of the crew, that’s okay because they still make an incredible impact. He continues to do the ride for them and for all those affected by cancer.

“I ride because of the great teammates I have. Dave and Meg Wolinski have been part of our team from day one; the Bailey-Romanowicz family came soon thereafter, and many others for a good part of these 15 years that our team has existed.

“My wife, Linda, has been tremendously supportive over these years, and last year she became an EMC member as a virtual rider. In addition, my sons and their families have ridden despite living in Maryland and Seattle. Many others have ridden, as well. Some just once and others almost every year. They all make me proud.”

Bob especially wants to mention Lori and Jessica Runk, “both true Fighting Irish, as both are Notre Dame graduates. They have been part of our team for the last seven years.” Lori is an eight-year breast cancer survivor. In 2016, she qualified to do the Peloton but was unable to complete it, so she took the sag wagon – a support vehicle riders can hop on if they need a break from cycling – to UB, where she was able to ride into the stadium with the rest of the Peloton. “Not to be denied, Lori qualified and completed the peloton in 2018 and 2019. In addition, she was our team’s second highest fundraiser in 2019,” Bob said.

Hope for the Future

For Fighting Irish Fighting Cancer, the future is full of hope. For Bob, being a small part of changing the future is a big deal.

“Year after year, there’s someone new we know who has cancer, survived it or has rung the victory bell,” he said. “It’s something you do just to be a little part of some breakthrough that will take place that will end this thing. Even raising $200 could help make the difference in this fight.”

As a retired high school math teacher in the Buffalo Public Schools, Bob has found new purpose through the Ride.

“My wife and I were both teachers. Our outlook was always to do things for other people. There are many needs in our community, and this is one need that our family concentrates on.

“Doing the Ride with three generations – myself, my sons and my grandchildren – that’s something that I hope will continue over the years.”

Fighting Irish Fighting Cancer will be participating in the Summer of the Ride. The team is still fundraising and doing their best to help raise funds for cancer research and patient care programs at Roswell Park. Bob is planning to ride throughout June and July, and looking to schedule rides with his teammates, either one-on-ones or small groups of 3 to 4. They are also planning to go to the in-person rides in August. You can support Fighting Irish Fighting Cancer here. 

If anyone is interested in joining Fighting Irish Fighting Cancer, please contact Bob at rdrajem@gmail.com

Putting the Fun into Fundraising

We know — February can be a real boar. So we created a fundraising challenge to help you get through the last full month of winter and to get your 2020 Ride for Roswell off to a great start. Best part? We brought the pigs back! Participants get a commemorative 25th anniversary Ride for Roswell piggy bank with a chance to win a $25 donation from M&T Bank! Does the earlier pig pun make sense now?

We’re squealing with excitement about this. 

So, Here's the Deal!

To participate in this challenge, you need to be registered for the 2020 Ride for Roswell (in fact, registering kicks off your challenge!). If you cannot attend this year’s Ride, you can still register and fundraise as a virtual rider .

Next, download our fundraising challenge board (see below) and complete 10 or more of the listed tasks in order to receive the prized piggy bank. 25 lucky winners will also receive a $25 donation to their fundraising page courtesy of M&T Bank. To let us know that you’ve completed your tasks, you can:

  1. Download, print and cross out the items on the challenge board and then send us a picture through email or social media.
  2. Email us and list out your completed tasks. 

Our email address is rideforroswell@roswellpark.org. When you send us your completed tasks, be sure to include your full name, email address (the one you used to sign up for the Ride) and social media handles so we can verify your entry. Please make sure your posts on any social media channels are public so our staff will be able to see and verify them.

All entries must submitted by 11:59 p.m. EST February 29, 2020.

Please allow 2 weeks for our team to verify your entry and mail out your prize.

Are you up for the challenge? 

A Childhood Cancer Survivor’s Journey to the Ride

For most 11-turning-12-year-olds, their birthday means blowing out candles, celebrating with classmates and maybe getting a gift or two. But that wasn’t the case for Erin Wilson.

She was diagnosed with childhood cancer right before her 12th birthday. After a year of chemotherapy, surgeries and recovery, Erin was declared cancer free. But the effects of being a pediatric cancer survivor last longer than a year. Luckily, 23 years later, with the help of her family, her husband of 11 years, and her resilience, Erin, now 35, is leading a life of happiness, love and riding in the Ride.

Her Diagnosis

In January 1996, something just wasn’t right, and Erin could feel it. She had pain and swelling in her femur, so she went to her pediatrician, where they did an X-ray. She was immediately sent to Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center.

According to Erin, it all happened very fast. She was diagnosed with osteosarcoma, and doctors created a plan for how to treat her cancer. She started chemo very quickly and also had surgery on her knee to replace two-thirds of her femur with a metal rod.

Her diagnosis, chemo, surgery and recovery took a year to complete. By January 1997, her doctors told her she was cancer free and has been in remission ever since.

Life After Cancer

Even when the cancer is gone, there are still side effects patients can experience. First, there’s the physical.

Because of her treatment and surgery, Erin was advised by doctors to not participate in sports as a teenager. She was also required to get knee replacement surgery every eight to 10 years based on her activity level.  

And then, there are the emotional side effects of going through cancer. For Erin, it was difficult to watch other pediatric cancer patients not survive while she was receiving treatment. She remembers making friends with the other Carly’s Club members (today, you know it as the Courage of Carly Fund). To this day, it is something that still affects her.  

But, her personality, drive and family helped get her through it.

Throughout her cancer journey, her family rallied around her. Her older sister, Amy, moved back home to help Pat and Skip, their mom and dad, take care of her. Pat was always with Erin and taking care of her. And Skip worked overtime to help offset the costs of treatment.

“There were a couple meltdowns when I wanted to give up. But having family here really helped me,” she said.

And when she met her husband, he stepped right up to the plate, too.

Erin and Sean's Journey

They were not even a year into their relationship when Sean was there to support Erin through her first knee surgery when she was 20. Instead of choosing to go out like a normal college kid, he was right by Erin’s side.

“Here’s this 22-year-old boy who could’ve been out partying, but he’s in the hospital with me. What boy does that at that age?!” Erin said. “He [continued to] support me through a lot of different surgeries. I knew he was a good guy because he stuck by my side.”

When asked what their favorite memory of each other is, both Erin and Sean are armed with a mountain of examples. Erin discusses their time together interning at the Walt Disney World Studios in Orlando, Florida. Sean talks about their proposal outside of Rockefeller Center in New York City. They both talk about their children, Teddy and Penelope, ages 6 and 3.

“We’ve got 20 years of [memories],” he said.

 

Sean describes his wife as relentless, determined and a fighter.

“When she gets her mind on something, it’s hard for her to change her mind,” he said. “She’s a caretaker. If there’s an issue, she wants to make sure there’s a resolution.

“She’s loving, caring and she’s got a deep heart.”

For Sean, it’s a very real possibility that childhood cancer could’ve taken Erin before he even knew her, before they had the chance to start a life together. What does he say to that?

“There’s a reason why things happen,” he said. “It’s never easy dealing with what she went through, but you have to be positive. How many people in the world would love to be in our shoes?

“All the past got us to where we are today. There were a lot of [moments], but every step of the way had to happen.”

Full Circle

The year of Erin’s diagnosis was also the year the Ride for Roswell was founded. The fact that she can get on a bike with her family and ride over her name at the finish line is something so special to her.

“I am fortunate enough that, despite what happened to me, I was able to have two beautiful children,” she said. “I feel super lucky to be able to share it with my children, and I hope one day, they will continue to do it.

“It’s my favorite event of the year. I look forward to it so much. It fills me with so much hope to see how generous people are. I wrote a simple post on Facebook, a quick excerpt about how I had cancer, and people donated their hard-earned money.”

And the first time Erin saw her name on the finish line, it was quite an emotional experience, something Sean knows means so much to her.

“The most emotional part is when we’re finishing up the Ride. Every year, we make a video coming up to crossing the finish line. We hear all the cowbells, ride over her name in the chalk and see all the faces.

“She always tears up. For her, it’s always a goal to finish proud and with her head up, representing what she went through for herself and for others.”

Erin and Sean are back for the 2020 Ride for Roswell and will be participating in the Summer of the Ride. Throughout the coming months, they will jump on their bikes for family bike rides every weekend. They will also be promoting their rides on social media and to their donors to help with their fundraising efforts. Additionally, they are planning on coming out to an in-person ride in August. If you’d like to support their team, Sunflower Dreams, you can donate here.

When Erin was sick, she would always wear a denim sunflower hat which inspired their team name. Why is it called Sunflower Dreams?

“My dream is for there to be a world without cancer,” Erin said.

Introducing 25 in 25: Tales of the Ride

Did you know there are exactly 25 weeks until the 25th anniversary of the Ride? In honor of that, we wanted to do something extra special this year. Introducing 25 in 25: Tales of the Ride!

Each week, we will be showcasing a different story about the Ride. From riders to survivors to volunteers and everything in between, our community is filled with inspirational tales and we want to tell as many as we can. First up – the story of our new logo. Since we’re celebrating a milestone year, it was time for a refresh. We wanted to keep elements from our previous logo, like the rider and the colors, while incorporating more modern fonts and a different layout. We also added something special for the 25th anniversary – the banner. 

Our team went through a lot of options before finding the one – check out the story of our new logo below. 

And stay tuned for next week when we premiere our second story about a childhood cancer patients who, through lifesaving treatments at Roswell Park, is now able to ride with her husband and children. 

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CONTACT

office address

Elm and Carlton Streets
Buffalo, NY 14263

phone number

716-THE-RIDE
716-843-7433

Important info

RIDE FOR ROSWELL 2021

Saturday, August 7

EVENT LOCATIONS

University at Buffalo
Grand Island, West River Parkway
Buffalo Outer Harbor
Niagara County Community College
Buffalo RosRoll

PROCEEDS DIRECTLY BENEFIT