Tag Archives: CT Challenge

Roundup: Turkey Quake, Tailgate Party, Casket …

George and Libya Kocadag moved to Westport years ago, from Turkey. Many Westporters know him as one of the friendliest members of the very friendly Trader Joe’s staff. She shares her wonderful baked goods, yogurt and hummus with everyone (those great raspberry cookies at Layla’s Falafel are hers).

Libya’s family lives in Samandag, Turkey, not far from the center of the recent earthquake. In the aftermath of the devastation — with lives lost and houses destroyed — the Kocadags are asking for help.

She set up a GoFundMe page. The goal is $20,000. All money will go directly to Samandag. Click here to contribute. (Hat tip: Danielle Teplica)

A small part of the devastation in Turkey and Syria.


Whether you’re rooting for Kansas City or Philadelphia, or have no idea who’s playing: Everyone is invited to tomorrow’s Super Bowl tailgate party (Sunday, February 12, 12:30 to 4 p.m.).

It’s at the Senior Center — but all ages are welcome. The afternoon includes hot dogs, spring rolls, chips and cake, and a guess-the-score contest.

Former director Sue Pfister will be honored, along with the state champion Staples High School girls soccer and boys lacrosse teams. The Staples cheerleaders will be there too.

The only thing missing: the game. Kickoff is 6:30 p.m. — 2 hours after the party ends.


The Post Road East log pile has been an object of fascination and fear for drivers near Roseville Road.

It’s also the subject of litigation, brought by the town.

At least now there’s something interesting to look at, besides high towers that look like they could collapse and spill into the roadway.

Several colorful wood carvings recently appeared. Their back story is unknown.

And — like the log piles themselves — the saga continues.

(Photo and hat tip/Stacie Curran)


Another odd Post Road East sight: a casket.

For a few weeks, it’s been spotted amid the “stuff” near Goodwill and the  Westport Tennis Club.

(Photo and hat tip: Eric Bosch)

The Post Road is not the prettiest street. But at least we’ve got some interesting things to see, as we drive by.


Spiders and moths and wasps, oh my!

“Little Things Run the World” — and that’s the subject of the next Aspetuck Land Trust free seminar.

“Insects with Benefits: Pollination and Pest Control” is the sub-head of the Wednesday, February 15 event (1 to 4 p.m.).

ALT says: “Learn about the most important part of our web of life, and be inspired to make your yard more welcoming for them. Without our insects, the web of life comes apart. Love our spiders, moths and wasps from the comfort of your home.”

Click here to register, and for more information. (NOTE: The 3 previous sessions were recorded. All are available with registration.)


Registration is now open for the CT Challenge. The July 29 bike ride — with distances of 10, 25, 40, 62, 100 and virtual — raises funds for the local non-profit Mission. They help 16.9 million cancer survivors in Connecticut and throughout the US rebuild, improve and prolong their lives through exercise, nutrition, mind-body health and community-building support programs.

Click here to register. Click here for more information on the CT Challenge.


Staples High School offers courses in Spanish, French, German, Italian, Latin and Mandarin.

All will join in, to celebrate World Language Week. Among the events:

The cafeteria will serve themed dishes, and promote international cuisine.

Students are invited to wear t-shirts or sweatshirts supporting the language they’re studying (for example, sports teams, international universities, and souvenir shirts from abroad).

Music will play in a variety of languages before school, during the 5 minutes of passing time, and immediately after school ends.

Students will make morning announcements, in the languages they’re taking.

The library will display world language literature, art and more, and will host international karaoke and a trivia competition.

The “Connections” period will feature trivia games, video links, and basic conversational instruction.


Students studying Italian will celebrate World Language Week.


Today’s intriguing “Westport … Naturally” photo comes from Greens Farms, courtesy of Joanna Sierakowska. You never know …

(Photo/Jenna Sierakowska)


And finally … the recent death from lung cancer of David Harris — the journalist who went to jail for refusing the draft during Vietnam, and encouraged others to do the same — brought to mind the song Joan Baez wrote for and about him. They were married at the time; he had just been sentenced to 3 years in prison. (Click here for a full obituary.)

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Roundup: Saugatuck Zoning, MLK Day, Remarkable Bookcycle …

The Representative Town Meeting (RTM) will hold a special public hearing on January 17 (7:30 p.m., Zoom) to review last month’s Planning & Zoning Commission decision to create a new zoning and map amendment in Saugatuck.

The vote rezoned 11 properties, and could pave the way for the new Hamlet at Saugatuck retail/hotel/marina project.

The RTM’s Planning & Zoning Committee planned to hold a public meeting to review the P&Z Commission’s decision last night. However, due to a Zoom glitch allowing a maximum of 100 people to attend at a time, with more seeking to participate, the meeting was canceled.

Further meetings are set for January 10 and 12, via Zoom (7 p.m.). The RTM Transit Committee will also meet on Monday, to discuss Saugatuck. Click here for agendas and details.

Details on the January 17 public hearing have not yet been released. It will be livestreamed at  www.westportct.gov, and aired on Optimum channel 79 and Frontier channel 6020.

The shaded area includes the new text and map amendment boundaries.


This year, Westport celebrates more than Martin Luther King Day.

It’s a full Martin Luther King weekend.

On Saturday (January 14), the Westport Library features several community events.

Junauda Petrus and local artists offer workshops in creative mediums, culminating in a panel discussion on justice, art and healing. They include:

11 a.m. to noon:  Writing Workshop with Shanna T. Melton, a poet, painter and art educator in Bridgeport. The author of “Unraveling My Thoughts” and founder of The Writer’s Group, she is also an arts consultant who integrates social justice and community engagement in her creative workshops, performances and events.

Noon to 1 p.m.: Self-Portrait Workshop with Alicia Cobb, a visual artist, fine body painter and teaching artist in Bridgeport. She honors her ancestors, and creates art for those who couldn’t. Breaking away from conventional canvas and concepts, Alicia creates stories of survival and beauty on human skin and through fine art.

1 to 2 p.m.: Art Workshop

2 to 3 p.m.:  Workshop with Junauda Petrus, a creative activist, writer, playwright and multi-dimensional performance artist. Born on Dakota land, West-Indian descended and African-sourced, her work centers around Black wildness, futurism, ancestral healing, sweetness, spectacle and shimmer.

3 to 4 p.m.: Justice, Art and Healing panel discussion with Junauda Petrus and guest artists; moderated by Connecticut poet laureate, author and artist Antoinette Brim-Bell,

Click here for more details about the free Library events, and registration.

On Sunday (January 15, 3 p.m.), Petrus will deliver a keynote address at the Westport Country Playhouse.

The program includes a dance performed by the Regional Center for the Arts.

Click here to register for the free Westport Country Playhouse event.

The Playhouse — partnering for the weekend with the Westport Library, TEAM Westport, Westport/Weston Interfaith Council, and Westport/Weston Interfaith Clergy, says:

“Together, we invite our entire community — those who live, work, study and participate in the life of Westport, Fairfield County, and adjacent counties — to join us as we begin the work needed to continue King’s call to action, as urgent now as it was in 1968.

“For members of a community such as Westport, that begins with a challenge to understand our place of comfort and the work we each, as individuals, need to do to transform ourselves and our society into a more equitable and just one.”

Westport’s 17th annual Martin Luther King Day celebration begins next Friday (January 13), with Petrus leading student workshops in various schools.

Junauda Petrus


The Remarkable Bookcycle is enjoying its winter home on Main Street, outside Savvy + Grace.

It’s all good. Except: It needs books!

They can be dropped off in the Bookcycle itself, or with Annette Norton in her Savvy + Grace. (No yellowing softcovers, please.)

The back story: Jane Green — yes, that Jane Green — and her husband Ian Warburg created the Remarkable Bookcycle as a tribute to the beloved pink book shop — the Remarkable — that sat on the Main Street/Parker Harding Plaza corner for 34 years.

The Bookcycle is a free library that moves between Compo Beach and Main Street — reminding everyone, Jane says, “of the many charming idiosyncrasies, and the many creative people, that made us fall in love with Westport in the first place.”

Jane Green, and the Remarkable Bookcycle on Main Street.


As contributions for Westport’s sister city of Lyman, Ukraine continue to come in — $4,500 over the past 2 days — our 3-week fundraising total stands at $246,300.

That’s just $3,700 of our $250,000 goal.

Meanwhile, Brian and Marshall Mayer — native Westporters, and our partners on the ground through the Ukraine Aid International organization they founded — are in Europe. They are sourcing material and goods to help Lyman, as it emerges from several months of Russian occupation.

Tax-deductible donations can be made to Lyman through Ukraine Aid International. Please click here. Click the “I want to support” box; then select “Support for the City of Lyman.” Scroll down on that page for other tax-deductible donation options (mail, wire transfer and Venmo). You can also donate directly, via Stripe (click here). 


Food for thought: The Westport Library’s January 10 (7 p.m.) event.

Michel Nischan dishes on “Dinner Disrupted: The Power of Food.”

The Library says: “Food has the power to transform. From where it is grown through consumption, food transforms us along its journey from seed to plate. But what journey is your food taking? And is it reaching everybody? Do we all have access to healthy and nutritious foods?”

Nischan — former partner with Paul Newman in The Dressing Room restaurant; 4-time James Beard Award-winning chef; founder and president of Wholesome Crave, which sells responsibly sourced, plant-forward soups to large-scale dining facilities, and co-founder of Wholesome Wave, the nonprofit food equity organization — will talk about food access, food choice, and how to create a more equitable and sustainable food system.

Click here for more information.

Michel Nischan


Yesterday’s Roundup mentioned a new store — Courtgirl — moving into 125 Main Street soon. They sell tennis and golf products in private clubs, pro shops and sports stores. This will be their first retail outlet.

Patti Brill — one of Westport’s 12 zillion pickleball players — wondered if “tennis products” included her sport.

The answer: Yes! Courtgirl will sell pickleball gear.

I don’t play. (I know, I know …). So I don’t know what “pickleball gear” is.

But I’m sure everyone else in Westport does.


This year’s CT Challenge is July 29.

The bike tour that raises money for cancer survivors through 10, 25, 50, 75 and 100-mile rides through Connecticut (and virtually) draws dozens of Westport cyclists (and contributors).

Registration opens January 17. Click here for details.

And they’re off!


A morning ritual for many Westport girls is getting together for coffee.

Here’s a “Westport … Naturally” ritual for many local gulls.

(Photo/Tammy Barry)


And finally … today — January 6 — has joined December 7 as days that will live in infamy.

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Roundup: Cell Tower, CBD, CT Challenge …

Yesterday’s Roundup gave an incorrect date for the Connecticut Siting Council’s public hearing on the cell tower application for 92 Greens Farms Road.

The correct date is next Tuesday, August 9.

The Zoom meeting begins at 2 p.m. with an evidentiary session. Public comment follows at 6:30 p.m. Click here for the link.

To participate in the 6:30 p.m. public comment session, email siting.council@ct.gov with your name, email address and mailing address, by August 8. Public comments may also be submitted to the Council by email (see address above).

A cell tower been proposed for the property on the left: 92 Greens Farms Road. (Photo courtesy of Google Maps)


New England Hemp Farm — the CBD and hemp shop in Brooks Corner — will close on August 31.

But its many customers will still be able to buy rubs, drops, gummies and more, online.

Business is great, says owner Matt Bannon. His landlord has been good. But rents are rising, and as online sales rise, that’s where customers can find them.

“We give great thanks to this community,” Matt says. “When we first came to Main Street, knowledge of the benefits of CBS were a big unknown. The open-mindedness of this town was refreshing.

“We’ll miss the people most. We made thousands of friends, who support us in person. We look forward to continuing to serve and support them online.”

New England Hemp Farm is the approved vendor for Northeast Pharmacy Service. They represent almost 300 independent pharmacies.

Meanwhile, Matt continues to look for a local store that will carry their products. Interested owners can email matt@newenglandhempfarm.com for information.

New England Hemp Farm started as a pop-up store, in Brooks Corner.


Last weekend’s Roundup noted that Wafu – the Asian fusion restaurant in Southport — is closed. But based on a phone call I made to the Westport location, in Bedford Square, which called itself “Korean BBQ,” I added that it was still open.

Yesterday, “06880” reader Clark Thiemann was dining at Amis. He noticed this sign:

(Photo/Clark Thiemann)

To which we can only say: Wafu, WTF?


Last night’s screening of “The Sandlot” at the Remarkable Theater drive-in was perfect family fun.

The Imperial Avenue parking lot was filled with families like this one.

Baseball, movies, a gorgeous night — what’s not to like?

Tomorrow’s feature: “Mamma Mia!” (Wednesday, August 3, 8:15 p.m.; gates open at 7:15). Click here for tickets.


An “06880” reader warns recently learned of 5 unauthorized withdrawals from his wife’s debit card. The amount stolen was $520.

All took place at the ATM at 1460 Post Road East — while his wife was in possession of the card. She has never given her PIN to anyone.

Keep an eye on your statements. And on that ATM.


United Way of Coastal Fairfield County has given funds to 17 organizations. The goal is to increase equity and opportunity in 3 areas: health, education and financial stability. Amounts range from $5,000 to $20,000.

Among them: Westport-based Positive Directions. Click here for a full list.


The CT Challenge — a bike ride of varying lengths, in part through Westport, to raise funds for programs for cancer patients and survivors — always draws thousands of participants and spectators.

Every one has a story.

Last weekend, Dave Lowrie heard this:

“On a random bike ride, I came upon two men about to finish their second “Century Ride” (100 miles). When I sat with them after they finished, I learned that Alec Fraser, age 62, and Danny Faryniarz, 58, rode for Team Julian. It is named for Alec’s son, who succumbed to cancer at age 19.

“Julian was a student and water polo athlete at Santa Clara University. So last year Alec cycled across the country, from Connecticut to California in his honor.

“When he arrived in San Francisco, Alec was joined by 50 of Julian’s water polo teammates. They rode together the final 3 hours to Santa Clara, where the water polo pool was re-named for Julian.

“The foundation in his name (https://teamjf.org/ includes events throughout the year.

“On top of that, after Danny’s first 100-mile Challenge ride, he discovered he had type 1 diabetes. In spite of that he finished that and Saturday’s races. These guys are inspiration personified!”

Danny Faryniarz (left) and Alec Fraser. (Photo/Dave Lowrie)


Carl McNair is an avid environmentalist. He — and his family — walk the talk, in all that they do.

But even Carl was impressed by a guy he saw the other day, at Compo Beach.

“He rides his e bike — and tows his human powered surf ski,” Carl marvels.

He gets a good workout, too.

(Photo/Carl lMcNair)


Rikki Gordon and Allen Peck’s beautiful Aussie Chloe is a perfect model for an early August “Westport … Naturally” feature.

(Photo/Patricia McMahon)


And finally … this is International Clown Week.

So unless you suffer from coulrophobia — smile!

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Roundup: Little League Champs, Maccabi Gold, Blind Rhino …

Living in the condos behind the post office, I thought I’d seen ever conceivable kind of bad parking in the Playhouse Square lot.

The combination of poor design and poor drivers is deadly. (So far, thankfully, I don’t mean that literally.)

But this scene from yesterday could be the most jaw-dropping example yet of entitlement.

And I’ve seen hundreds of others.

(Photo/Pam Long)


Westport’s 11U District All-Star baseball team defeated Glastonbury 14-8 on Wednesday night. That’s the second straight state championship for the team!

Congratulations to Dylan Burdeshaw, Miles Delorier, Henry Ellis, Justin Goldshore, Wyatt Johnson, Christopher Lambert, Chase Landgraf, Jack McGrath, Luke Moneyhon, Torrey Rossetter, Toby Slavin, Grant Theisinger.  Nolan Walters, plus manager Justin Walters and coaches Marc Theisinger and Jon Ellis.

Now it’s on to the regional championship, started Monday in Beverly, Massachusetts. Good luck, guys!

Westport, at the previous section tournament.


Speaking of sports: Oscar Edelman is a gold medalist.

The rising Greens Farms Academy senior just returned from Israel. He represented the US in the Maccabi Games — and his U-18 basketball team finished first.

Over 60 countries compete in the Maccabi Games — sometimes called “the Jewish Olympics. More than 600 players, from across the US, tried out for the U-18 hoops team.

Oscar — who stands an imposing 6-7 — was the second youngest on the squad.

The Americans went undefeated. They faced the host Israeli team in the finals — and won, 91-79.

Click here for the full back story, courtesy of GFA.

Oscar Edelman, at the line. (Photo/Bonnie Edelman)


The CT Challenge Bicycle Ride rolls through here tomorrow (Saturday, July 30). The shorter rides use Beachside Avenue; the longer routes are on Long Lots and surrounding roads.

The heaviest traffic is between 7 and 10 a.m. e of Westport and surrounding towns.

This is an important fundraiser, for a great organization that helps people battling cancer, and survivors. So when you see all those riders tomorrow, slow down! 

Don’t honk. But show your support with a hearty thumbs-up! (Hat tip: Gloria Gouveia)


Twiddle plays 2 special shows — with Mihali and the Nth Power — today and tomorrow (Friday and Saturday) at the Levitt Pavilion.

Also on the menu: Blind Rhino’s new food truck.

Former Staples High School baseball player/2003 graduate Casey 2 popular restaurants, in Black Rock and SoNo.

Now he’s got a truck too. It will be parked in the Levitt lot, serving wings and more.

Don’t just Twiddle your thumbs. Dig in!

Partners Casey Dohme (left) and Jamie Pantella with their Blind Rhino truck.


Westport’s latest teardown is 12 Godfrey Lane.

The home off Bulkley Avenue North was more than 50 years old. The Westport Historic District Commission waived the waiting period, and the Conservation Department okayed a new larger build.

All that remains are the Bilco doors.

12 Godfrey Lane.


It’s been a while since we ran a cat photo, for our “Westport … Naturally” feature.

Michael Catarevas says: “At Costco, we get free cardboard boxes to carry stuff. We put them on the floor the other day before taking them to the car to reuse, but they were taken over.”

Smart cats, for sure!

(Photo/Michael Catarevas)


And finally … in honor of Michael “Cat”arevas’ photo (above):

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Can You Take The CT Challenge?

There can’t be anyone in Westport who has not been impacted in some way by cancer.

So there could be 20,000 or so riders in July, when the CT Challenge Bike Ride pedals off at the Fairfield County Hunt Club.

There won’t be that many, of course. But the 1,000-plus riders — coming from across Fairfield County, and beyond — will have an experience unlike any other bike ride in the world.

The event — now in its 14th year — is a physical challenge (though you choose either a 10, 25, 50, 75 or 100 mile route).

It’s also a festival, complete with live music, a BBQ, buffet lunch, games, massages and more.

Most importantly, it’s a celebration of cancer survivors — and a fundraiser, so the many men, women and children battling the disease can benefit from the fitness, nutrition, and mind-body health programs offered by the sponsor, Southport-based Mission.

It also assists the new Adventure Project, which funds equipment, training, coaching and competition for cancer survivors ages 12 to 30.

Jeff Manchester is one Westporter who knows the devastation caused by cancer. In 2013 his 73-year-old mother Judith planned to ride. But chemo treatments weakened her. So Jeff — and her 5 grandchildren — took her place.

Five years later, they still ride.

Jeff Manchester and his kids (from left) Ella, Logan and Max,

“I’ve been involved in a lot of cancer events and fundraisers,” says Jeff, a 1985 Staples High School graduate. He moved back to Westport in 2011, and runs an independent financial consulting firm.

“They all focus on research. That’s important. But it’s esoteric, and down the road. The CT Challenge is much more immediate and hands-on. It’s a special place, with special people.”

The ride begins with inspirational speakers. This year’s keynoter, Brenna Huckaby, is a Paralympic gold medal snowboarder — and Sports Illustrated’s first-ever amputee swimsuit model.

Up to 1,200 bicyclists line up.  But that emotional moment is dwarfed by the sight of a few dozen riders — all in the middle of chemo — taking a loop through the Hunt Club.

“We think our training was tough. But we can’t imagine how they do it, with all they’re going through,” Jeff says.

Another emotional moment comes with the release of butterflies — symbolizing those who have lost their battles.

And they’re off!

As in years past, Jeff will share these experiences with his 3 children.

Twelve-year-old Logan has ridden since he was 6. For him, the best part is the end.

“Everyone lines up, clapping and screaming and calling your name,” he says.

Logan  takes his fundraising responsibilities seriously. He has a lemonade stand, sells maple syrup to neighbors, and solicits relatives and friends.

His 9-year-old sister Ella adds, “I’m proud of what I’ve done.”

Jeff first heard of the CT Challenge from childhood friend Mitch McManus, who lost his mother to cancer at a young age. Since that first ride, Jeff has worked his way up to 100 miles.

However, he notes, “It’s a ride, not a race.” Inspirational signs along the route keep him going.

Amy Kaplan: — a cancer survivor — completed the 2013 CT Challenge.

Once, a support vehicle picked up his 7-year-old daughter, and brought her to the top of the next hill. “She took it from there,” he says proudly.

On July 27 and 28, more than 1,000 riders will join the Manchesters, and take the CT Challenge.

If you join them, chances are that — like the Manchesters — you’ll be back every year too.

(The CT Challenge is Friday and Saturday, July 27 and 28. Fundraising minimums are based on distance: 10 and 25 miles, $500; 50 and 75 miles, $750; 100 miles, $1,000. Teams of 4 or more may share funds. Registration fee is $60 to $125, depending on distance. For more information click here, or email agraham@ctchallenge.org. For more information on Mission, click here.)

Whittingham Cancer Center: Care With A Hometown Heart

Tony Menchaca’s 2006 colonoscopy was clean. With no family history of colon cancer, he was happy to wait 10 years for his next one.

But when he saw blood in his stool in 2013, he had another procedure. Diagnosed with Stage 3 cancer, a foot of his colon was removed at Norwalk Hospital.

The disease had spread to his lymph nodes. He faced 6 months of chemotherapy.

Tony Menchaca

Tony — a Westporter since 1990, whose 3 boys earned fame as Staples High School wrestlers — had a choice. He could undergo chemo at world renowned Memorial Sloan Kettering in New York, or at the much smaller Whittingham Cancer Center at Norwalk Hospital.

His surgeon, Dr. James McClane, described the value of a local center. It was important, he said, to think about ease of access, and the personalization of a smaller facility.

Tony chose Whittingham. Four years later — and cancer-free — he is very pleased with his experience.

“I got super treatment,” Tony says. “The level of expertise is comparable to New York. And the amount of caring was phenomenal.”

(Whittingham Cancer Center recently affiliated with Memorial Sloan Kettering. MSK medical and radiation oncologists are now onsite at Norwalk Hospital.)

Over 6 months, Tony underwent 12 rounds of chemo. He’d go in on Monday, for 3 hours of infusion. On Wednesday, he returned to have his pump disconnected. The next day, he went back for a booster shot.

Tony drove himself to his appointments. He did not want his wife Sara or his kids hanging around the infusion suite.

However, the setup encourages loved ones or friends to be there during treatment. “If you want people around, it’s great,” he notes.

Whittingham Cancer Center

Tony’s oncologist, Dr. Richard Frank, was very accessible. “I always saw him,” Tony says. “He’s a great guy, and like most of the doctors there, he’s local.”

So local, in fact, that he plays sax in the popular doctor-dominated rock band DNR.

“I may not have had that level of exposure to a physician in a larger cancer center,” Tony says.

But, Tony says, the heart of Whittingham is its chemo suite infusion nurses. They’re the ones he spent most of his time with. He can’t say enough about their expertise and concern.

The real eye-opener, though, was “the value of a local cancer center. If he spent 6 months commuting to chemo, Tony believes his recovery would have been far harder.

Even before his diagnosis, Tony had ridden in the CT Challenge, a bike ride fundraiser for cancer survivors. He’s now done it 7 times.

His other major effort is Whittingham’s 3K walk and 5K run. It’s doubly special this year: the 15th annual event for the cancer center falls on the 125th anniversary of Norwalk Hospital.

It’s Saturday, May 5 at Calf Pasture Beach. That’s just a couple of miles from his Westport home, so of course Tony will be there.

It’s not like he has to go all the way to New York for exercise.

Or excellent, life-saving cancer care.

(For more information on the Whittingham Cancer Center Walk & Sally’s Run, click here.)

Unsung Hero #28

Everyone knows Patty Kondub. And everyone loves Patty Kondub.

But she’s one of those people who everyone kind of takes for granted.

We shouldn’t. Which is why Patty Kondub is this week’s Unsung Hero.

Patty is many things. A 1981 Staples High School graduate — and proud University of Connecticut alum — she’s worked for the Westport Weston Family Y for 30 years.

Members flock to her Aquafit classes. She works hard at researching and preparing lessons. But she always welcomes members with a smile, then makes every class fun. One day she’ll wear a costume; the next day she’ll announce a game.

Patty Kondub, in her Aquafit Halloween costume.

When someone is sick, she brings a card for the class to sign. She sings “Happy Birthday” (a lot!). Whenever she sees a news story about a class member — a new book they’ve written, a promotion, or just a brief mention — she tells everyone (and posts its on the bulletin board).

As soon as Ellen Gilbertson joined Aquafit — because of a stress fracture in her foot — Patty called her doctor, so she could design the best workout. If someone is laid up at home, Patty visits (and brings food)

Every day she picks out great music, which puts everyone in a great mood. (For Halloween it was “Monster Mash.” For the Olympics, elections and many other events, she finds something appropriate. On St. Patrick’s Day, she’s got an Irish playlist — and an Irish quiz.)

Patty is no slouch. Her Aquafit students work hard. But she’s such a good teacher, they don’t even realize they’re getting a fantastic workout.

A motivational message from Patty Kondub. (Photo/Barbara Wiederecht)

Her classes get together outside the Y, to celebrate special events. (Ask about her vegetarian chili!)

Colleague Ruth Sherman says, “Patty works so hard to make aging fun. They say our community is getting younger every day, and for this we thank Patty.”

Gilbertson adds, “She goes above and beyond any teacher I’ve ever known, in so many ways.”

Sandra Long says, “Whether it’s your first class or you’ve come for 20 years, Patty knows your name and helps you. She looks out for everyone — it doesn’t even have to be related to the pool. She does whatever she can to help anyone at the Y who’s in need.”

Elsewhere at the Y, Patty helps coordinate indoor triathlons and special needs swim instruction.

Patty Kondub offers hydration tips.

Out of the water, Patty helped organize the Spin Odyssey that over 15 years raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for cancer research. Some of her Aquafit fans were involved.

In her spare time (!), Patty is the much-loved coach of the Staples girls golf team. She’s a past president of the Longshore Women’s Golf Association.

And on Saturday mornings, she teaches a class for cancer survivors at CT Challenge.

Patty Kondub always has a smile on her face. The next time you see her, smile back — and congratulate our latest Unsung Hero.

BONUS FUN FACTAs a field hockey player, Patty was part of the first University of Connecticut team to win a national championship — in any sport.

(Do you know an Unsung Hero? To nominate him or her, email dwoog@optonline.net)

Mission Accomplished

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.

And that’s the new name for the facility: Mission.

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.

Working out in Mission’s wellness center.

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.

Some of the links to Survivor Stories on the website.

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 hereOr head to 250 Pequot Avenue in Southport. It’s just past the Horseshoe — an easy drive.

Or bike ride.

Riding With Joy

National chain SoulCycle rode into town the other day. Dozens of Westporters packed the new Compo Acres fitness center, trying out (for free) the national chain’s offerings.

But for nearly 4 years, a more local studio has been serving the town. And that service extends far beyond riding bikes for a (stationary) spin.

When Amy Hochhauser, Debbie Katz and Rhodie Lorenz founded JoyRide in June of 2011, their business plan included a healthy dose of philanthropy. From their spot in the Crate & Barrel Shopping Center next to Greens Farms Elementary School, the women “put great value in bringing a community together to get fit, build healthy lifestyles and — on a local, national and global scale — affect change,” Amy says.

The joyful smiles of Joy Riders. (Photo/Kyle Norton)

The joyful smiles of Joy Riders. (Photo/Kyle Norton)

“We have witnessed first-hand how indoor cycling can transform people’s lives, whether by improving health, becoming stronger physically and emotionally, or overcoming challenges on and off the bike,” she adds.

“The culture of JoyRide is more than fitness. It’s a culture of good health, paying it forward, supporting one another and spreading joy.”

If all this sounds a bit fluffy, consider this: In less than half a decade, JoyRide has raised more than $500,000 for charitable causes and organizations — all of them important to their riders.

When a rider asks the owners to host an event, there is no discussion of rental fees. All studio space is donated.

JoyRide logoLast March, JoyRide was the top fundraising team — for the 3rd straight year — at SpinOdyssey. Riders raised $78,472 for breast cancer research and awareness — 5 times what the 2nd-place team brought in.

Over the past 2 years, JoyRiders raised $90,500 for the Lynne Cohen Foundation for Ovarian Cancer Research. The organization was founded by Westporter Erin Berk and her siblings, in memory of their mother.

Last November, the studio raised nearly $20,000 to help women survivors of violence in Congo. That event featured African drummers.

In 2012, JoyRide’s team raised the most money of any satellite team in the world for Cycle for Survival, a national event for research into rare cancers.

If you’re kicking yourself for missing any of those great opportunities, don’t worry. Up ahead:

Pinko de Mayo. On Tuesday, May 5 (6 p.m.), JoyRide celebrates Cinco de Mayo by benefiting the breast cancer organization Pink Aid. Post-event festivities include food from the Bodega Taco Truck (including margaritas). Donation amount is $25.

Shatterproof Ride. On Sunday, May 17 (2 p.m.), riders will help break the stigma of addiction, with a focus on children affected by the disease. The day is organized by Westporter Ellen Mendell. Her brother-in-law founded Shatterproof, after his son committed suicide related to addiction. Minimum donation is $40.

CT Challenge. Anyone participating in this fantastic outdoor bike ride in July — which aids cancer survivors — can train for free in the early-morning and evening hours at JoyRide.

JoyRide’s founders clearly walk the talk. No, that’s not the greatest analogy to use with an indoor cycling studio — but I can’t think of a greater compliment.

(For more information on any of the upcoming JoyRide events, click here.)


Joy Ride 2 - Kyle Norton

(Photo/Kyle Norton)


CT Challenge Is A Ride For Life

When Staples grad Susan Lloyd lost first her leg, and then her life, to bone cancer, her family could have wallowed in self-pity.

When Fairfield native Jeff Keith lost a leg to cancer at age 12, he could have limped along and watched life from the sidelines.

They did not.

And countless area cancer patients and their families have benefited as a result.

Susan Lloyd

Susan Lloyd

Since 1982, the Susan Fund has awarded hundreds of college scholarships to young people suffering with cancer. Since 2005, Jeff’s CT Challenge has helped cancer survivors live healthier, happier lives through fitness, nutrition, health and support programs. Fittingly, Jeff was one of the first Susan Fund recipients.

The 2 organizations work closely together. For example, the CT Challenge’s Center for Survivorship in Southport hosts the Susan Fund awards ceremony.

And on Saturday, July 26 there are 25, 50, 75 and 100-mile bike rides, all starting at the Fairfield County Hunt Club. A 2-day ride starts the day before in Lakeville, Connecticut, and ends at the Hunt Club.

Over 1,000 riders — all of whom raise money to participate — are expected for this year’s 10th annual event. Last summer, they raised a record $1.65 million.

CT Challenge - 1Part of the funds raised by the bike ride support the Susan Fund. The bulk goes to the CT Challenge Center for Survivorship. It’s the only standalone center of its kind in the country not affiliated with a hospital.

Other money goes to CT Challenge’s yoga program, camp and college scholarships for young cancer survivors, adventure outings for young adult survivors, support for women in lower socioeconomic areas, research projects, outreach services, a speaker series and more.

Last year, nearly 54,000 cancer survivors benefited from CT Challenge programs.

Among the riders this year is Jessica Ellison. A Staples grad and Susan Fund recipient, she’s majoring in molecular biology at Georgetown University. Jessica spent several years at Camp Rising Sun, inspiring youngsters with cancer. She’s now a counselor there, and will join the camp team at the CT Challenge.

Jessica Ellison

Jessica Ellison

Last year, Jessica and her parents rode with the Susan Fund team. This year, there are 2 Susan Fund teams entered in the ride.

Of course, you don’t have to be part of any team to participate. All you have to do is support a cyclist — or get on a bike yourself.

It’s a beautiful ride. Plus, the Lloyd family and Jeff Keith have already shown you the way.

(Click for more information on the CT Challenge bike rides.)