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Hospice fundraiser underlines the fun, beauty of biking

Paul Konopczynski and his family fell for biking four years ago while taking a 28-mile ride from their home on Grand Island to Canalside and back. Buffalo Slow Rolls followed, as did trips across the region and into Canada. Soon, some of his hockey buddies – weathered from playing the sport in their 20s, 30s and 40s – turned to the less rugged but still healthy pursuit, as well.

“There are so many great trails and you get different perspectives seeing the area on a bike than you would in a car,” Konopczynski said.

Rides like the one he, friends and family will take on June 15 to provide another reason to feel better: they’re for a good cause. Konopczynski is part of a nine-member Cutters fundraising squad – named for the team in the 1979 bike racing movie, “Breaking Away” – that will be among about 700 bicyclists to participate in the sixth annual Niagara Hospice Gran Fondo.

He, his wife, Jean Marie, and daughter, Madelyn, will ride in memory of Konopczynski’s sister-in-law, Anne Fife Cooper, who died nine years ago, at age 49, after an 18-month battle with pancreatic cancer that ended at home with hospice care.

Konopczynski and team member Mike Utz will ride 62.5 miles. Their teammates will ride 30 miles. A 15-mile ride also is offered. The long ride begins at 8 a.m. Saturday and the others follow, starting at returning to Krull Park in Olcott. For more information, or to register or donate, visit hospicegranfondo.com.

Dave Borkowski, who founded the Cutters fundraising team for the Niagara Hospice Grand Fondo, is flanked by team members Paul and Jean Marie Konopczynski during the after-party of last year's "big" bike ride. (Photo courtesy of Paul Konopczynski)

A Gran Fondo, or “big ride,” originated in Italy as a kind of party on wheels. The version that will benefit Niagara Hospice will include stops at Niagara Wine Trail wineries, along with a postrace party that includes live music, fruit, water, draft beer and wine tastings.

“If Mike and I can do a 15½- to 17-mile-an-hour pace, we’ll get done in say four hours. We’ll maybe stop in a winery to say hi, but wait for the vino until we get back,” said Konopczynski, 52, who sometimes bikes to his information technology job at Columbus McKinnon in Amherst.

It rained heavily for a time when he rode the 30-mile route last year, Konopczynski said. “Once it cleared up, there was a stretch of road where you saw a lot of beautiful homes and towards the tail end, when you're parallel to Lake Ontario, you see all these vineyards and farms, and the lake is breathtaking.”

Training has been similar to prepping for a half marathon, he said. He trained for the longer ride in part on an indoor bike with the Rouvy app, which allows users to upload routes they’ve ridden, and mimics conditions including elevation and tension. In recent weeks, he’s ridden outdoors 18 to 25 miles, three days a week, with incrementally longer rides on a weekend day.

Konopczynski also will log the 65-mile route on June 22 during the Ride for Roswell.

What does he wish more people knew about bike riding in the region?

“The fact that it's not hard to do,” he said. “Right now, I weigh about 206 pounds. I started biking at about 240 after I had back surgery. Now I ride 100, 150 miles a week. You just make it a way of life.”

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