The Empire State Ride is more than a bike ride. In July, I am cycling over 500 miles across New York State to end cancer.
I'm riding because too many people in my life have had their lives changed permanently by cancer.
I'm riding because the money I raise will help research that will lead to better and more effective treatments.
I'm riding because someday that research will prevent our loved ones from ever having to receive a cancer diagnosis.
And I'm riding to honor those who have lost that battle, to support those who will have to face that battle, and for those whose research will end that battle.
My Personal Blog
Some of you may be wondering why I'm raising money for a charity that is literally on the other side of the state from where I grew up and still live. Here's my explanation:
Like many of you, cancer has affected numerous people in my life, most recently in the last couple of years. In the early days of the pandemic, a very close family member received a diagnosis. I ended up spending much of 2020 and the first half of 2021 as a caregiver during chemo, post-surgery, radiation treatments, and ultimately more surgery. Living in New York City, there are many options for treatment. Most importantly, there are five hospitals designated Cancer Centers by the National Cancer Institute to choose from, two of which are also designated Comprehensive Cancer Centers, all within a 20-minute drive of my house.
What is an NCI Comprehensive Cancer Center?
In short, it's an institute that's been officially recognized for its "recognized...leadership and resources, in addition to demonstrating an added depth and breadth of research, as well as substantial transdisciplinary research that bridges these scientific areas." Of the 51 institutes nationwide with this designation, two are in midtown Manhattan, and there are another three within the city limits that have the Cancer Center designation.
To have such choices made a huge difference for our family.
Beyond the City, though, there is only one other center like this in the entire state of New York, and that's Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center in Buffalo. In fact, it's one of the first institutions to have received such a designation, in 1972. Roswell Park was founded in 1898 as the world's first institute dedicated exclusively to cancer research. In their history, they pioneered the early use of chemo and radiation therapies, were the first to positively confirm the link of smoking to lung cancer, have been part of some of the largest U.S. clinical trials, developed the first PSA tests for prostate cancer, and led the way in using immunotherapy to treat blood cancers. In addition to their research, they treat over 40,000 patients per year. People all over Western NY drive many hours for access to treatment that is otherwise unavailable at their nearby hospitals. In short, they are an invaluable resource in a region that has fewer options than my family are fortunate enough to have. And their reach is well beyond Western NY. They collaborate on research with many other major institutions, including the University of Chicago and Sloan Kettering. They are often one of the first centers to launch widespread clinical trials, resulting in breakthrough treatments. Their tradition of excellence continues.
But it only continues with funding. Centers like Roswell rely on a combination of federal funding, government and non-government grants, and charitable donations. Since its inception in 2014, the Empire State Ride has raised over $4.5 million to help with this. I know that the $5,000 I'm trying to raise for ESR22 is a comparative drop in the bucket, but I also know that there are a lot of other buckets like mine out there, and if we all contribute, it will make all the difference in the world.
by Harry Marenstein on Sun, Nov 28, 2021 @ 10:12 PM
Setting goals and staying focused
I'll start this Thanksgiving week with a big thank you to all who have donated so far. Twenty-one donors have already contributed to my #ESR22 ride, putting me at 30% of the way towards my $5,000 fundraising goal. I am amazed and grateful to be able to help Roswell Comprehensive Cancer Center in this way.
With 35 weeks still remaining until we actually leave for Niagara Falls, maintaining focus on the task at hand can be tricky. It's seems an eternity from now and it's a huge undertaking. Training needs to be in small, incremental steps, and has to take place over many months. The gains over the months are marginal, but taken as a whole, add up to something substantive. But staying motivated during the process can be a challenge.
That's where technology comes in. When the pandemic hit, I, like so many others, went from riding the bike outdoors to riding it indoors on a static trainer. At first, this seemed like a good way to blow off steam, but after a few weeks, the monotony was getting to me. I had heard about Zwift, a virtual cycling platform - part fitness system, part video game, part social media space - where you could ride various "routes" with other riders in real time, and where the road was simulated, with the right equipment. I found a "smart" trainer that could interact with the software and got to work. Now I could look at terrain, feel the gradient change under my feet, and chat with riders from all over the world. By riding regularly, I earn new bike frames and wheels, record personal records, join racing teams, and implement full training plans over weeks or months. It's just what I need to keep the motivation going.
So, when late January rolls around, and it's time to start training in earnest, but the days are short and there's snow on the ground, you'll find me climbing the Alps, lapping around Central Park, or hitting the championship course in Yorkshire, all from the comfort of my basement. And every point I earn will be one more step to conquering the road to Niagara Falls.
Have a great Thanksgiving, everyone.
by Harry Marenstein on Sun, Nov 21, 2021 @ 11:05 PM
Who I'm riding for - part I
This past week was Veteran's Day. Many paid tribute to parents and grandparents who served. Here's my tribute (sorry that photos can't be uploaded here):
My father was born in the Bronx in the mid-1920s. He was the second child born to my grandparents. Their first child, also a boy, died before my father's birth. My grandmother never spoke of it.
My father and his family survived poverty brought on by the Great Depression, moving multiple times. He made it through a combat deployment to Germany and Northern France in the latter part of WWII. He traveled the world in the early '60s, sometimes to rather politically unstable places. It wasn't until he was nearly my age that he finally settled down and had a family.
I still remember the first time I heard the word, "leukemia". I was 7, and my father's favorite uncle was in hospital suffering from its final stages. His death shook my dad in a way I hadn't known anything could. I found out later that my father's brother, the baby nobody talked about, also died from the same disease. It was an ominous word.
Within a year of his retirement, my father was diagnosed with chronic lymphocytic leukemia. Clearly, this word had power over the family. He spent the next 11 years bouncing between bouts of exhaustion, strange infections, and secondary tumors caused by his blood cells betraying him, and chemo treatments that held the rogue cells at bay, but carried with them some powerful side effects. Eventually the treatments stopped working and the leukemia overtook him, just short of his 71st birthday.
That same year, the FDA approved a new drug, Rituxin, for lymphoma. Within a few years that drug was approved for use in CLL as well. It, and a whole accompanying class of drugs can now treat CLL to the point where the disease can be held in stasis for decades. I know several people who were diagnosed years ago and continue to lead normal lives, thanks to these therapies. I regret that these drugs came along too late for my dad, but am glad to know that there are generations of people who won't go through what he did.
NCIS Comprehensive Care Centers, like Roswell Park, are at the forefront of treatment, clinical trials, and research that lead to breakthroughs like this. Roswell Park actually led the clinical development of Rituxin as a lymphoma therapy. The ESR enables Roswell to continue their good work saving and preserving lives. This is why I ride - for my dad.
by Harry Marenstein on Sun, Nov 14, 2021 @ 10:54 PM
I want to start by congratulating my son for completing yet another Ronald McDonald House Fun Run. He raised over $1,100, was the top fundraiser in his school, and ended up being in the top 15 in New York City. We couldn't be prouder.
I posted my ESR22 fundraiser on Facebook a few days ago, and I've already received donations from 8 people, which has brought me to 11% of my $5,000 goal. I am humbled and happy to have been given so much support already.
This weekend, I participated in a 30 mile virtual group ride with basketball Hall-of-Fame inductee, Reggie Miller, to benefit cycling programs at Historically Black Colleges and Universities, along with more than 2,000 other cyclists throughout the world. The next day, I also got in a lovely, if cold, 38 miles out to the north shore of Long Island. Thanks to the two little girls who were selling cookies in front of their house to benefit their school. I'm always happy to pay it forward and those cookies were tasty. Training can be delicious.
by Harry Marenstein on Sun, Nov 07, 2021 @ 5:12 PM
Why climb a mountain?
"Because it's there", as the old saying goes.
I have to admit it. I've always loved riding bikes.
When I was a kid, my friends and I rode all over our part of Queens. It was liberating being out on our own, no parents to watch over us, going as fast as we could, wind in our faces, no telling where we'd end up. Unfortunately, after crashing and damaging my bike while in college, it would be 20 years before I got another one.
I took up road cycling a few years back to try and get fit. It was then that I re-discovered the joys of being out there. It's also where I came to the realization that I relish the challenge of pushing myself to go further, and for longer, than I thought I could. I also discovered that I could combine this love of cycling with my desire to raise money for causes that I believe in. In 2015 rode the NYC Century to help fund initiatives that would make the city safer for pedestrians and cyclists. I rode over 400 miles in September 2020 to raise funds for the Childrens Cancer Research Fund. And in 2022 I will be taking on my greatest challenge yet: to ride 500 miles, from New York City to Niagara Falls in a week to raise money for the Roswell Park Cancer Institute.
So, why climb this mountain? To be honest, part of it is the challenge of riding that many miles a day for a full week. I've never done it, and I want to find out if I can. But I also want to remind myself that whatever suffering I'll experience as I ride those miles and climb those hills is nothing compared to the challenge faced by cancer patients and survivors every day of their lives. I want to help make certain that someday, such a ride will only be done "because it's there."
So, what's the plan?
Step 1: Acquire a bike that will be suitable for that many hours per day in the saddle (DONE AS OF 3 WEEKS AGO).
Step 2: Raise a minimum of $3,500 before July 2022 to qualify for the ESR, and push for my goal of $5,000.
Step 3: Establish and maintain base fitness through the Winter.
Step 4: Begin a 10-week structured training plan in mid-May that will prepare me for the 500 miles and 17,000+ feet of climbing that I and the other riders will encounter.
So, that's my long story. There will be plenty more to come, including training updates as well as some of the people who have inspired me along the way. Stay tuned.
by Harry Marenstein on Tue, Oct 26, 2021 @ 12:41 AM