Bill Gworek rode for his son, a child cancer patient.
Brian Conaway rode for his father and his sister, both cancer survivors.
They were among the thousands of cyclists who braved a chilly, windy and rainy Saturday morning to participate in the 20th annual Ride for Roswell.
Altogether, the roughly 8,200 riders and 2,000 volunteers helped raise more than $4.5 million for the Roswell Park Cancer Institute to support cancer research and patient care programs.
Though a stormy forecast forced event coordinators to cancel two of the longest events – the 102-mile and 66-mile rides – participants still showed up en masse.
The rain held off for a time, but it started falling in earnest at around 10 a.m., when many riders were returning from their routes at the University at Buffalo’s North Campus.
Shorter events, such as the 10-mile and 3-mile rides, had yet to begin.
“It was cool, so there was no sweating to be had,” said a soaked Conaway, still panting from his 30-mile ride through Tonawanda and along the Niagara River. “Visibility was tough. I’m not going to lie, we made two wrong turns, but luckily got back on track.”
Conaway counts two cancer survivors in his family: His sister, who had breast cancer, and his father, who had prostate cancer. Both have been cancer-free for more than a decade.
The 20th edition of the ride also featured some new additions.
For the first time, riders were allowed to begin their journeys at the Roswell Park complex downtown. Riders could take a 26-mile route along Canalside or a 44-mile trek across the Canadian border and back.
The Canadian route symbolized not only the friendship between the two countries, but also “the strength and courage people show to support those they love who have been affected by cancer,” said Victor Filadora, the chief of clinical services at Roswell Park.
Filadora noted that many of Roswell Park’s patients were Canadians who paid out-of-pocket for the center’s cancer treatments.
According to at least one rider, the Canadian route was a success.
“It was the best ride I’ve ever taken,” said rider Bill Gworek, who was participating in his second Ride for Roswell.
Bill and Danielle Gworek stood under a white tent, a sign reading “Team Luke” hanging from it. Luke is their son, an 8-year-old who was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia in 2013. Luke is in the maintenance stage of his treatment, which is tentatively scheduled to end in early 2016.
“He’s a fighter,” Bill said of his son, who insisted on biking the 10-mile route in the pouring rain.
Over the past two years, Team Luke has collected more than $34,000 for Roswell. Luke has even become known throughout Roswell Park as the “Band-Aid King,” after he started a campaign to supply the hospital with more kid-friendly Band-Aids. Band-Aid donated almost 4,000 child-appropriate bandages.
“One day, with the support of the Ride, kids won’t have to go through what Luke went through,” Bill Gworek said.
“It’s why we’re here: To find a cure.”