More than 1,100 riders will take to the streets of Fairfield County Saturday to bike toward a common goal: empowering cancer survivors.
This eighth annual Connecticut Challenge Bike Ride kicks off Saturday, July 28 at 8 a.m. from the Fairfield County Hunt Club in Westport. Cyclists will ride 10-, 25-, 50-, 75-, and 100-mile routes in the organization's largest fundraiser.
Eighty-six cents of every dollar raised will go toward CT Challenge's programming for cancer survivors and their caregivers; and this year much of the fundraising will go toward the nation's first Center for Survivorship, located at 250 Pequot Avenue in Southport.
The Center, slated to open to the public at the end of September, will offer numerous free programs and classes to cancer survivors, including yoga, Pilates, Spinning, one-on-one consultations and cooking demos with registered dietitians, and support groups.
Basically, it's a place to go to start rebuilding after being diagnosed with or treated for cancer.
Fairfield resident Tamara Deyle, the Center's program director, knows how a diagnosis can derail a person's life. Her mother was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 2009; her mother-in-law had cancer of the appendix and continues to battle skin cancer.
Both are survivors, but there's still a long road to returning to wellness after getting the OK from the doctor, Deyle said.
"After you get the OK signal from doctors, it feels like they've been dropped off a cliff," she said. "There's a lot of anxiety with that."
Deyle, an exercise physiologist, was determined to get her mother back to where she was, well-being-wise, before her diagnosis. She became a certified Cancer Exercise Trainer through the American College of Sports Medicine and American Cancer Society.
Through her research in developing fitness and nutritional plans for her mother, Deyle found out that CT Challenge was looking for a program director for the Center, and she's filled that role for the past year and a half.
Deyle and the rest of the CT Challenge staff's commitment to enhancing the well being of cancer survivors is apparent in the Center. The Pequot Avenue building had been vacant for six years before CT Challenge moved in; before that, it was a center for radiology.
Plus, there weren't any windows.
Since the building became the Center for Survivorship, enough windows have been added to void the need for lighting on sunny days, Deyle said. The staff has added several eco-friendly touches, too, but the main focus is to make the Center as welcoming as possible.
"We don't want survivors to feel like they're going back to the hospital," Deyle said "We want to make it warm and welcoming."
The Center includes a large multipurpose studio for yoga and Pilates classes that can be also used for speaker series and other programs, a library that also functions as a one-on-one consultation room, a kitchen for snacking and cooking demos, two rooms with cardiovascular and strength training equipment, locker rooms, and CT Challenge's corporate headquarters.
Outside there is a meditation garden in the form of a mandala, the Sanskrit word for "circle."
"There's one way in and one way out; it serves as a reminder that survivors are always moving forward in their journey," Deyle said.
As the staff moves forward with readying the Center for its September opening, Deyle said the final push will come from the proceeds of the CT Challenge Bike Ride.
This is Deyle's second time doing the ride. Last year, she and her husband, Eric, put together a team of six people. This year the team has doubled in size and includes quite a few travelers.
Deyle's brother has come in from Spain, her brother-in-law will be coming by way of China, her husband's family from Chicago, and friends and other family are traveling from Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Rochester, N.Y.
"It's very exciting for our team," Deyle said of the Center's upcoming opening. It's also exciting that CT Challenge is "really becoming that household name," she said.
For details on the CT Challenge bike ride, the Center for Survivorship, or how you can support CT Challenge's programming, visit the organization's website, the CT Challenge Facebook page, or follow CT Challenge on Twitter.