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.
“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.
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.
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 email@example.com. For more information on Mission, click here.)