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Sean Kirst: A tale of friendship that winds through the Ride for Roswell

Even the way Steve Boyd met Mickey Osterreicher was unforgettable, and distinctly Buffalo. In 1989, Boyd was on his first day as a television reporter with Channel 7. He was a passenger in a car driven northbound by a cameraman on Interstate 190, through downtown. Boyd learned he'd been reassigned to a story about the nuclear waste dump in West Valley.

Osterreicher was shooting it. He was going the other way on the I-190. He pulled over in the middle of the interstate. With traffic screaming past in both directions, Boyd tumbled across the median and tumbled into Osterreicher's car.

In many ways, they've been together ever since.

Only one thing will be different during Friday night's Peloton, the opening bicycling event in the annual Ride for Roswell:

This time, Boyd is steering.

Tuesday, Osterreicher had surgery at Roswell Park Cancer Institute for cancer of the brain. The tumor was discovered only a few days earlier. It is an example of what Roswell, a leading international cancer research institute, is up against every day:

Cancer reaches everywhere, including The Buffalo News newsroom. Osterreicher, a Buffalo-based First Amendment lawyer, is the husband of Cathaleen Curtiss, a former White House News Photographer Association photographer of the year, now director of photography for the paper and this website.

We offer the tale of the friendship linking Osterreicher and Boyd, in hope it might inspire you to share your own stories tied to the Ride for Roswell, an annual event in which thousands of bicyclists raise money for cancer research and treatment at Roswell.

You can email your reflections to skirst@buffnews.com, or leave them below, as a comment.

In a long interview Wednesday, less than a day after brain surgery, Osterreicher said Roswell "is as amazing a resource here as the waterfront, or the Buffalo Bills."

It is equally easy, he said, to take it for granted.

In past years, Osterreicher has been a marshal in the Peloton, Friday's 12-mile, two-by-two bicycle ride that begins what amounts to a two-day tribute and fundraiser in honor of the work done at Roswell. He came to the event through Mitch Flynn, founder of the Ride for Roswell and a close friend, a guy credited with raising more than $30 million for the institute.

Osterreicher guesses he's been riding for "16 or 17 years," and that he's raised tens of thousands of dollars doing it. The ride itself – for obvious reasons – is impossible for him this year.

Instead, Friday, there is a next best thing.

During their years at Channel 7, Osterreicher and Boyd worked together so often they developed the kind of bond between television reporter and cameraman that goes beyond words, beyond even casual friendship. They both recall how they were hurrying through the old Buffalo International Airport in 1991, on their way to Germany after longtime hostage Terry Anderson – a journalist from Batavia – was finally released by his captors in Lebanon.

Even though they risked losing their flight, Boyd suddenly stopped. He spotted a Buffalo Bills sweatshirt in an airport gift shop. It was at that unforgettable moment in Western New York when the Bills had finally arrived as an elite team. Some instinct caused Boyd to buy it.

Osterreicher, worried about their plane, "was ready to wring my neck," Boyd said. But he trusted Boyd's instincts. He stood there and waited. They boarded just in time.

The next day, they saw Peggy Say, Anderson's sister, in a German restaurant.

Osterreicher knew her, from following the story for years. "Look," he said, "we've got something for Terry."

When Anderson faced the world at his first news conference after his release, he faced it wearing that Buffalo Bills sweatshirt.

"Every day," Boyd said of their years in television, "Mickey and I would go to a 9 a.m. editorial meeting and figure out our story," and then they'd go and cover it. They'd pause from time to time, throughout the day, to take care of whatever demands they had in regular life. Maybe they'd pay a bill, or stop at the bank.

That is a journalistic intimacy only they could fully understand. Boyd wondered if he was putting it to risk on the day he told Osterreicher he was enrolling in law school.

Instead, Osterreicher replied: "If you're going to law school, I am, too."

They both signed up at the University at Buffalo. They worked night shifts so they could go to class by day. They often studied side by side, and they graduated together.

Boyd went into personal injury law. Osterreicher became a First Amendment lawyer. They remained close. In many ways, even difficult ways, their paths were parallel.

Two years ago, Boyd learned he had leukemia. At about the same time, the doctors told Osterreicher he had Castleman's Disease – an illness of the lymph nodes that demands chemotherapy, like cancer.

Osterreicher was well enough, however, to take on the Peloton. Before the bicyclists begin, many patients come to the windows, at Roswell, to watch as the event gets underway. The riders hold up signs with the names of a particular patient they're honoring. The moment has unforgettable power.

Boyd was in the crowd. Osterreicher raised his sign to him.

Today, tests show Boyd is cancer-free. Less than two weeks ago, he got together with Osterreicher and Curtiss. "How about we make a pledge," Boyd said, "that we all remain healthy into old age?"

They lifted bottles of water, and shared that toast.

"I'm not good at following direction," Osterreicher reflects now.

That week, he was traveling the nation to offer workshops for journalists. He paused for a quick MRI at Roswell, then caught a flight to Madison, Wis.

The doctors called him and told him to come home. They'd found a tumor in his brain. As he prepared for surgery, Boyd made a request:

"I called and asked him if I could take his place in the Peloton," Boyd said. "I told him: I don't want to ride it for you. I want to ride it as you."

In other words: He knows his friend is in it to help Roswell. Boyd will make sure someone is riding so Osterreicher's fundraising continues.

That is how it will go Friday night. Boyd will be at the front of "column b," the position typically held by his friend Mickey. As for Osterreicher, he'll be watching when Boyd turns and looks back, when he lifts the board carrying a name.

"He's made a huge difference in the world," Boyd said, "and a huge difference in my life."

In speaking of Osterreicher, he also speaks for Roswell.

Sean Kirst is a columnist with The Buffalo News. Email him at skirst@buffnews.com, share your stories involving Roswell Park below or read more of his work in this archive.

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