There are plenty of individual celebrations during the Ride for Roswell, from people hugging their teams of family and friends to cheers for cyclists completing their routes.
But this year, for the first time in 17 years, the Ride will start with a kickoff celebration on Friday, with a party, procession, video, speeches and a concert by 1980s pop star Rick Springfield.
Admission to the event, which will be held in the UB Stadium, is free for anyone participating in this year's Ride, or for anyone who has ever been treated at Roswell Park Cancer Institute. Each person who qualifies may also bring one guest for free. Additional tickets are $50 each.
"In our 17 years, this is something new," said Cindy Eller, vice president of development at Roswell Park and executive director of the Roswell Park Alliance Foundation. "We've never had the opportunity to celebrate what everyone has done, to get us all in the same room and say, ‘Look what we're doing in the fight against cancer.' "
Because cyclists ride routes that range from three miles to 104 miles and they begin between 5:30 and 10:30 a.m., it was never possible to celebrate as a group, she says. "So our thought was that we would put a celebration on the front end, that we would kick off with a celebration to say thank you, and for people to come together, hold hands, celebrate, shake their pompons."
The kickoff event begins with riders picking up their packets between 10 a.m. and 6:30 p.m. in the Edward Wright Practice Facility in UB's Alumni Arena. A party with food and refreshments will run from 4 to 7 p.m. in Celebration Village next to Alumni Arena, and the stadium will open for seating at 5:30 p.m.
At 7 p.m., a procession of patients, family members, doctors and scientists, grouped by diagnosis or specialty around 15 of the most common types of cancer, will enter the stadium.
"There will be one, two or three patients representing each disease type, a family member who represents a loss, and they will be walking with a cancer researcher and doctor for each of 15 cancer types – breast cancer, brain tumors, pediatric cancer, sarcomas, and so on," said Eller. The fight against each specific type of cancer is represented by a different color ribbon, and each group will carry a flag in their color.
After the procession, a 200-rider Extra Mile Club Peloton will cycle into the stadium after a 12-mile ride from Roswell Park.
The program begins at 7:30 p.m., with celebrity video greetings, including one from Lance Armstrong, remarks by sponsors and organizers. At 7:50 p.m., former Buffalo Bills linebacker Chris Spielman, whose wife, Stefanie, lost her battle with cancer in 2009, will speak. From 8 to 9:30 p.m., Springfield will take the stage. Springfield won a Grammy for the song "Jessie's Girl" in 1982 and had recurring roles in "General Hospital" and "Californication." His other hits were "I Get Excited," "Don't Talk to Strangers," and "Affair of the Heart."
To sign up to attend the opening ceremony, go to www.RideForRoswell.org, To reserve space by phone, call 843-7433 (THE-RIDE). Although tickets should be available at the door, organizers encourage those who wish to attend to register ahead of time.