We’ve all seen the “CT Challenge” lawn signs and car magnets.
Many of us know what that “challenge” is: bike rides of 10, 25, 50, 75 or 100 miles, starting and finishing at the Fairfield County Hunt Club, undertaken every July by thousands of riders. It is a major fundraiser to provide services for cancer survivors.
But most of us — even those who live or work nearby — don’t know that the CT Challenge has spawned an actual survivorship center. It’s a fitness training, educational and meeting space just over the Westport line in Southport, where people of all ages who have faced down cancer reclaim their lives.
There may not be any place like it in the United States.
You may not know all this, because the CT Challenge is in the early phases of a rebrand. The “Challenge” name now refers to the bike rides only (this year’s event is July 28-29 — click here for details).
The rebrand’s mission is to create an identity — separate from the ride — for the equally amazing center.
It’s filled every day with men, women — and kids — with missions. Each has a story.
One is a 26-year-old 8-time survivor. Another is an endurance athlete.
Someone who survived both cancer and 9/11 recalls: “I watched the first responders walk up as we walked down. They never looked back.”
That attitude pervades Mission. And it’s encompassed in its (ahem) mission statement: “We exist to inspire everyone who has stared down cancer to live a fuller life, with newfound strength and purpose. There are no limits.”
Cancer survivors begin at Mission with a 30-day free trial. They take unlimited classes in yoga, Pilates, indoor cycling, TRX, meditation and strength conditioning. They have unlimited use of state-of-the-art cardio equipment.
There are 3 half-hour training sessions with a certified cancer exercise trainer. And they can hang out in Mission’s meditation and healing garden.
After that — for just $35 a month — members enjoy all those classes and equipment, plus personal training and nutritional counseling at reduced rates. Financial assistance is available.
But Mission’s mission extends to those who have not had to battle the disease too. Because 1/3 of all cancers are associated with inactivity and poor nutrition, “prevention memberships” are available for $85 a month. You can take a free 5-day trial too.
Mission is life-affirming — and life-changing. A 14-year-old with a cancer diagnosis recently said, “I just want to be normal.” Riding a bike — there are 4 available for outdoor use — is as normal as it gets.
Mission differs from many cancer organizations because the focus is not on treatment, but survivorship.
“They want to be pushed,” says wellness director Victoria Fairchild. “Instructors say that the people here — many of them are women, some in their 40s, 50s, even 60s — ask for a lot more pushing than in other gyms.”
Among the most inspiring parts of Mission is its website. “Survivor Stories” links to astonishing tales of triathletes, mountain climbers, dancers, nurses and entrepreneurs who, after surviving cancer, found the strength to make amazing lives.
In fact, stop reading this post right now! Check out those stories here.
Okay, you’re back! Now go back to the website. Click on other links, about diet, posture, exercise and other important resources.
Mission also sponsors an “Adventure Project.” The free coaching program helps 300,000 young survivors access online support to achieve their goals.
It matches users anywhere in the world with experienced trainers, who devise and supervise personalized 12-week training programs.
The very first applicant was a 20-year-old Westport with Ewing’s sarcoma of the spine. She’s endured 14 surgeries — and wanted help setting up a training regimen to ride in the CT Challenge.
She’ll do the Century ride. That’s the longest and toughest: 100 miles.
Those are the types of people who are part of Mission.
The folks who run it are passionate about their work. Many are cancer survivors themselves. Others have friends and family affected by the disease. All are motivated to work even harder by the people who come through their doors.
But funding doesn’t drop from the sky. It comes from one source on the ground: that CT Challenge bike ride.
If all you know about it are the road signs and seeing riders pass by, read on.
It’s one of the best annual events in the state. There’s live music (Blues Traveler played!), DJs at all 8 rest areas, and tremendous energy from the Hunt Club start and finish all the way through.
CT Challenge organizers are always looking for riders (individuals and teams, including businesses), sponsors (ditto) and volunteers. To learn more, click here.
To learn more about Mission, click here. Or head to 250 Pequot Avenue in Southport. It’s just past the Horseshoe — an easy drive.
Or bike ride.