The Yale Bowl was quiet last year for the opening ceremonies of the Closer to Free Ride. This year, that all changes. The event is returning in-person and the opening is what people say is one of the most cherished parts of the ride.
“The experience of the opening ceremony and hearing the stories of so many survivors, it’s overwhelming,” said Sharon Krantz of Middletown, who’s joining this year for her fourth ride.
It’s the moment when everyone is gathered together at the Yale Bowl as the sun rises, and the excitement for the day climbs as well.
“There’s so much energy that’s surrounding this event right now,” said Yale New Haven Health SVP Vin Petrini. “So much excitement that’s building on this.”
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He spoke with NBC Connecticut about the anticipation of the live ride returning for 2021. It will be the 11th year of the event and the 10th year in-person. Petrini says he’s excited to see the resilience back on September 11.
“Being able to see people out there. Being able to hear their stories. Being able to see what’s so important to them is really exciting,” Petrini said. “So, the 10th year, 11th year, the bottom line is we’re back live and it’s really important.”
The hospital system carefully considered all of the issues surrounding COVID-19 before making the decision to return. Petrini says the state has done well in terms of vaccinations.
“We always have a careful eye about what’s happening around the pandemic. But we thought it was the appropriate time to come back to this, and do it live because we thought it was the right time.”
Those who are not vaccinated are asked to wear a mask at all times. Vaccinated riders will need a mask indoors and in the ride’s support vehicles.
Proof of vaccination is not required, but organizers do encourage unvaccinated riders to get a vaccine.
“I believe with all my heart, every mile I pedal and every dollar I fundraise is making a difference in these patients' lives, these families' lives, their friends' lives,” Krantz said. She’s excited to conquer a 100-mile ride this year.
“It might be at the cut off at five o’clock, but I plan on crossing that finish line.”
She said it would have been impossible to complete last year on an unsupported route, so she’s glad to have the live ride back.
“This year being back in person, about every 20 miles I’m going to have a rest stop available to me. Whether I just need to get off the saddle or I need to refill my bottles or get something to eat and just be surrounded by fellow riders,” said Krantz.
She was at Smilow Cancer Hospital in 2017 when she first learned about the Closer to Free Ride. She was watching the event as her friend Kelly battled stage four melanoma.
“Her family and friends started participating in the Closer to Free Ride,” said Krantz. “Sadly, we lost her in August of 2017 just a few weeks before the ride.”
At the same time that Kelly was being treated, her friend Shawne was also at Smilow Cancer Hospital undergoing leukemia treatments.
“There were times where I’d come down here and Kelly was up on one floor, Shawne was on the other. So, I was seeing firsthand the treatment they were getting here.”
She joined Team Live Positive in 2018 and her family has positively shined when it comes to fundraising. All the proceeds from Closer to Free go to Smilow Cancer Hospital and Yale Cancer Center.
“My family in the last four years has raised over $12,000 for Smilow between the four of us. Our friends and family are so supportive,” Krantz said.
Each week she dedicates her miles of training to someone she knows who’s fought cancer. She shares their story and why she’s riding for them on Facebook.
“With their permission I’m telling their story. In addition to fundraising I’m trying to spread awareness,” Krantz said.
“I believe Kelly is my angel and she’s pushing me from behind, and I’m doing it not just for my own friends and family but everyone out there who is fighting this horrible fight.”
Nearly 1,600 people signed up for closer to free and were automatically registered for a virtual ride. Now, event organizers are asking riders to let them know if they’ll join the live ride so they can plan for the in-person event.
“This is a group of people that care so deeply about the Smilow Cancer Hospital coming together to do something that really elevates the patient care that we provide right here in New Haven,” Petrini said.
NBC Connecticut is a proud partner of the Closer to Free Ride.