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Ride for Roswell unites people linked by cancer

The feeling of community was palpable at the 21st annual Ride for Roswell event over the weekend, as strangers from all over Western New York came together for a common cause: beating cancer.

“Everyone here has a story,” said Candace Johnson, president and CEO of the Roswell Park Cancer Institute. “I think what this event does is bring together people who are going through the same thing.”

The proceeds from the two-day cycling festival, which began Friday, will go toward the Institute’s treatment and research facilities. The ride raised $4.5 million this year, the largest total so far, keeping with its pattern of pulling in more donations each year.

Friday night kick-offCancer patients and their physicians congregated in a parking lot at the University at Buffalo North Campus Friday night, straining their eyes for the sight of incoming cyclists.

Two hundred bicyclists left from Roswell Park about an hour earlier, winding through the city in a two-by-two line known as a Peloton. Participants in the 12-mile ride donated at least $1,000 and had the opportunity to see who would be impacted by their funds. When they arrived, they were met with enthusiastic applause.

Morning of fun

The first race Saturday morning started at 6 and sent riders on a 44-mile route into Canada. The last one, at 11, was a local, 10-mile race.

In between, there were 12 other races, ranging in distance from 3 to 102 miles. Although Roswell Park was the starting point for some routes, most began at UB North, where there were towering clusters of balloons, an imposing soundstage and sprawling white tents.

There’s a special focus on keeping the event as fun as possible, said volunteer Rosemary Alberico of Grand Island.

For her part, she worked with some co-workers at Praxair, a sponsor, to make a special form of ice cream with liquid nitrogen. She said people were surprised and delighted by the odd delicacy.

“It was very cold,” she said, laughing. “You don’t see that every day.”

A community

Susan Patanella of Alden, who has been a volunteer with Ride for Roswell for four years, is familiar with the toll cancer can take. Her sister, father and husband all died from different aggressive forms of the illness.

Each year, the event reminds her there are others going through the same experience.

“Everyone here’s in the same boat,”she said. “Sometimes, you feel alone with this, like, ‘Why me? I can’t believe this has happened.’ This redirects that.”

Cherie Noah was also riding for a family member, in this case, her mother-in-law, who passed away in September 2015. Noah was with a group of 12 dubbed “Novarian,” a play on ovarian cancer.

“I’m sick of everybody dying of cancer,” she said. “As much as I love Roswell, I don’t want there to have to be a place like this.”