Tag Archives: CT Challenge

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.)


Get Off My Lawn!

The corner of North Avenue and Cross Highway is looking quite cluttered these days.

Cross Highway and North Avenue, Westport CT

In addition to signs and posters for everything from sports (PAL football) and a charity bike ride (CT Challenge) to personal money-makers (tag sale, estate sale) and (of course) a lost dog, Fovama Rugs informs the world that they’re going out of business.

I have 2 thoughts:

  1. This sets a spectacularly bad precedent. What’s to prevent every business in Westport — and beyond — from hammering down their own signs advertising sales, new merchandise, a change of hours, or anything else they can think of?
  2. One reason Fovama might be going out of business is the sign itself. Who cares about the phone number? Isn’t it a lot smarter to tell folks where you’re located?

Amy Kaplan Challenges Cancer

Alert “06880” reader Amy Kaplan asked me to mention an upcoming event — one very close to her heart.

But I could never have done it the justice she does. Today’s post is hers.

I have been a cancer survivor for almost 17 years. I can’t even remember when my identity was not “cancer survivor.”

BC — Before cancer — I flew airplanes (my passion). I was a ballet dancer and windsurfer. I worked out often, and was planning my first sky dive.

Amy Kaplan

Amy Kaplan

Abruptly, all that changed. I went from fearsome to fearful. Most of my treasured activities were taken away.

It even became hard to continue with my Westport teaching job. Ultimately I retired early, to start my own tutoring service.

Lance Armstrong once said, “Cancer may leave your body, but it never leaves your life.” That is so true.

I started my journey as a fit size 6. But I could no longer fly, dance or work out as I had.

My body was weaker. I did not recognize my new size 14.

At first I attended support groups in Fairfield County. But once it appeared my life was not at stake — only my recovery — they were no longer relevant to my needs.

Physical trainers did not know how to help. They pushed hard, and I was in pain. Sadness took over. I lost my relationship, my fit body, and my favorite activities.

Luckily I heard of the post-resource treatment program at Memorial Sloan-Kettering. It’s designed to meet the needs of cancer survivors who are no longer in treatment. The survivorship programs were great, but finding the energy to get to New York after a day of teaching became daunting. Even on non-teaching days, the train and subway were just too much.

Amy Kaplan, with her bike.

Amy Kaplan, with her bike.

Then I found CT Challenge. Money was being raised for a survivorship center in Southport (now open to all cancer survivors and their caregivers). It had every program I needed: exercise, nutrition and emotional support. 

A bike ride every July is their major fundraising event. I jumped right in. First I volunteered. For a few years I raised money as a “virtual” rider. The last 2 years, I have been well enough to ride. 

And each year on my birthday, I organize an event to raise money.  One year it was a barbecue; another, a party at Joe’s Pizzeria.

This year’s event is an art show at Max’s Art Supplies in Westport.

Many of the artists have a cancer connection. From June 1 to 15, their work will be displayed in the store window (68 Post Road East, near Restoration Hardware). 

Then on Saturday, June 15 (4 to 6 p.m.) it’s for sale. Anywhere from 40 to 100% of the price will be donated to CT Challenge. 

I hope to see you there to purchase art, help CT Challenge — and celebrate my birthday.  

 (Can’t attend, but interested in donating anyway? Click here!)
Amy Kaplan: survivor!

Amy Kaplan: survivor!