“Having cancer myself I just want to show other people that you can do this.”
Mary Tirozzi of Wallingford is gearing up for her 11th Closer to Free Ride and she wouldn’t miss it, even now, as she goes through cancer treatments herself.
“The fatigue gets to me, but actually the bike riding motivates me and keeps me agoing,” Tirozzi said.
Her decade-plus journey with Closer to Free includes six 100-mile rides, including her very first one.
“I met a fellow rider on the ride that told me he had stage four lung cancer and he was going to ride 100 miles, so I decided then and there that if he could do it, I could do it,” Tirozzi said.
That rider was Mark Reitsma who helped launch Closer to Free. That meeting began a tradition with the creation of Team C4C, “Cycle for Cures.” They’ve grown into an extended family over the years.
“We have this bond of doing this ride together and it’s so important to all of us.”
They became even closer after Mark passed away from cancer. They dedicated a training ride which includes a stop to their favorite spot.
Then came Tirozzi’s breast cancer diagnosis and the support followed. The team even changed the name to “Team Tirozzi” and some shaved their heads when she lost her hair.
“I would not have known them if not for Closer to Free,” Tirozzi said.
So, this year’s ride means something a little different for Mary, who will put on a survivor’s jersey for a 65-mile ride.
She often dedicates the rides each year to the memory of her father, sister-in-law, cousins and uncles who were lost to cancer. But this year she’s dedicating it to two close friends: Desi and Angel, who were also diagnosed with cancer around the same time as Tirozzi this year.
“Desi, she’s about the same spot as me. She finished her chemo and radiation,” Tirozzi said. “We lost our hair together; we went through chemo upstairs together. And my other friend Angel we went through radiation together.”
All of the money raised through closer to free goes to Yale Cancer Center and Smilow Cancer Hospital.
It’s where she’s being treated and where she once worked. She retired from a role in finance, so she knows how important fundraising is for research and treatment.
“I think my cancer – the type of cancer that I have – if someone didn’t step up and do the research, I don’t know what would have happened. But it’s come a long way, cancer treatments, and I’m glad that there’s rides like this to support the research.”
And the hope that one day, the research could lead to a cure.
“It just hits home that cancer touches everyone, and I hope I’m an inspiration for people like Mark was to me.”
NBC Connecticut is a proud partner of the Closer to Free ride.