Mary Friona Celani
It’s been a few weeks since the Empire State Ride took place – and two ladies who took part are still riding high on their feelings from that ride.
This is a story about two friends – Amy Dickinson and Heather Sopko. They’ve done 12 marathons together. They’ve trained and run. They’ve stressed and fought through pain. They’ve challenged themselves and each other.
Amy is an employee at Roswell Park. She lost her grandmother to cancer, her mom and aunt are survivors – her work is important and she feels she’s in the right place at the right time. A calling of sorts – to do something, be a part of something amazing.
Amy sees the amazing work being done and the importance of research, “Witnessing what goes on here at Roswell Park every day has often left me wishing I could do something more. I’m not a doctor or a scientist, but taking on the Empire State Ride is something I could do. Heather and I are running buddies and have trained for and run 12 marathons together. (Heather has done 13, sneaking one in during a visit to in-laws.) So, in January, when Heather was stressing about turning 50 in 2017, she asked what adventurous challenge could we do? I immediately answered: “I’ve got an idea.” So we signed up somewhat impulsively.”
So, this was it. The Empire State Ride. 546 miles. Across New York State. From New York City to Niagara Falls. On a bike.
Amy and Heather. Dynamic duo – making their way. Amy said getting ready was tough, “It was hard. We didn’t really start training for it until April (when we bought bikes). We were training for the Buffalo marathon at the time so we didn’t get on the bikes much until after Memorial Day. Physically, cycling uses different muscles, but the running gave us a very good place to begin. Cycling is easier than running and we found we could ride for hours without the exhaustion we’d have from running.”
They had to learn – how to ride in a group, in traffic, in all kinds of weather. They worked hard, trained hard.
The camaraderie of 100 riders was awe-inspiring for Amy and Heather. Amy says those 100 or so riders are so much more now, “I feel like I have 100 new siblings, cousins, aunts and uncles that I call family.”
For Heather, it was quite a way to celebrate her half century on this earth. Fifty and fabulous, “It was a great experience! Tough? Well, none of the single days compared to a marathon’s difficulty. However, the 7 consecutive days of pedaling added up and definitely became a challenge. The most challenging part, while on the bike, was pedaling into a head wind. Feeling the bike teeter under you was a bit unsettling. This, of course, occurred the last day when it was supposed to be flat, fast and fun.”
The ride – was about doing something special. Working to fight the monster known as cancer. Heather said there were challenges, but she kept everything in perspective, “The most challenging part of the experience was sleeping 7 days straight in a tent. I have to add, though, all of this was nothing compared to what cancer survivors have to endure. Hearing many stories told by the riders put everything in perspective.” Amy couldn’t agree more, “The hard part came in days 3 and 4 when already-tired legs cycled 80-mile rides with elevation gains of 4,000 feet. During those days I had to dig deep mentally to get up some of those hills. I thought of the kind of toughness that it takes to endure cancer treatment and that perspective changed everything. The hardest day on this ride was nothing compared to that. I felt so blessed to be able to do this. Many riders on this trip are survivors and I am in awe of them. They are true heroes.”
In the end, the ladies felt victorious. Triumphant. Humbled. Amy said it was incredibly rewarding, “I felt like I was part of something that could make a meaningful impact in someone’s life. I missed my family was grateful to see my mom and two daughters at the finish line. I also felt like I need to do this again, to do whatever I can for as long as I can to help change what it means to have cancer.”
“I cried while pedaling the last mile of the 546,” said Heather, “An overwhelming feeling of accomplishment in making it through the entire ride and in helping the fight against cancer came over me and the water works were on. Memories were made that I’ll never forget. I would encourage everyone to join in the ride next year!”
(Cover picture courtesy: Roswell Park Cancer Institute)