If you had told Craig Wittmann back in 2009 that he would be cycling across New York State, he would have been thrilled, but also skeptical. That’s because at that time, the husband and father of two was in the fight of his life with stage IV non-Hodgkin lymphoma.
“I was completely devastated, fearing what lay ahead,” he said. “I had watched my mother die of brain cancer a few years before that and I thought I was next.”
Suffering from kidney failure, Wittmann came to Roswell Park and received therapies that he learned were partially developed and tested at the Institute in the years prior to his treatment. “After one round of chemo, within two weeks, I was off dialysis. My kidneys were healing,” he said.
His treatments continued to prove successful and he remembers the relieving moment that he was deemed cancer-free. As a way to thank the Institute for saving his life, he signed up for The Ride For Roswell and raised so much money that he received a special invitation to participate in the last leg of the Empire State Ride – a new cycling event from New York City to Niagara Falls to benefit cancer research at Roswell Park. He enjoyed his one-day experience so much that he committed to raising the $3,500 required to participate in the week-long 532-mile adventure the following summer.
While traversing the state, Wittmann and his co-riders formed deep relationships. By way of shared stories, laughs around the campfire and tireless encouragement as they pushed through rain, hills and heat, the group of nearly 60 strangers of varying cycling experience naturally morphed into what many of the riders now describe as a family.
“There’s a bond that’s developed amongst the riders and you can’t predict it, but you imagine that it will last for a lifetime,” he said.
He hopes to reunite with his newfound cycling family in New York City on July 30, 2017 to begin next year’s ride, but says that no matter his schedule or what life throws in the way, he will forever be a supporter of the Empire State Ride.
“They don’t give these jerseys out to just anyone,” he said. “I’m honored to have one.”
Learn more about the Empire State Ride.