“I’m not gonna lie, I’m on Team Craft Beer and a beer after you’ve ridden 60-70 miles, I don’t know much that tastes better than that,” said Closer to Free rider EJ Vongher.
He sat at 30 Mile Brewing in Old Saybrook, describing the refreshing feeling after finishing the Closer to Free Ride. He's completed them since 2015, and last year was his first with Team Craft Beer.
“Last year Team Craft Beer raised more money than any other team in Closer to Free,” said Vongher, adding that he's one of about 150 team members. As part of the team, he worked with local breweries on fundraising.
“We got breweries all across the state to donate prizes for the raffle and we ended up raising last year something like $2,500.”
This year’s virtual ride on September 12 means raising a virtual glass as well. His in-person fundraisers are now online with a craft beer auction.
For this year's ride, Team Craft Beer will set out on two separate routes.
His dedication to fundraising and Closer to Free is in memory of his mother, whom he calls a fighter. She passed away 21 years ago from lung cancer.
“It actually spread to her liver and to her brain. And that’s something Smilow focuses on specifically, is research to try to prevent cancer from moving from one organ to another.”
The other part of Smilow Cancer Hospital, he says, is the "whole person approach."
“You’ve got all the medical stuff all the clinical stuff, and you can treat people with all that stuff, but without the human emotional support, which is I think a big part of Smilow, it’s a tougher battle to win,” said Vongher.
Another family fighter he rides for is his sister.
“One of my favorite moments when I’ve done this ride, is last year when I was able to buy my sister a survivor hat at the Smilow finish festival.”
He says he looks forward to that finish where he celebrates with friends and family. Later in the evening they have a family dinner, and he and his dad relax in the hot tub to reflect on the ride. And yes, they have a beer.
He says cancer can bring a dark cloud, but Closer to Free helps change that outlook.
“It’s celebrating the hope and optimism in our role fighting this disease,” said Vongher.
A celebration with friends, support, and sometimes a cold beer in hand.
NBC Connecticut is a proud partner of the Closer to Free ride.