Closer to Free Ride

Closer to Free Team Keeps Pedaling After Loss

NBC Universal, Inc.

Danny Santomero left his mark on the world, especially among the members of the Closer to Free team “Remission Possible.”

“He had this infectious smile. He was so inspirational,” Susan Cassin Zanker, Santomero’s girlfriend, said.   

Santomero is remembered as "Captain Dano," the force behind the group of nearly 25 riders who joined the team he started in 2018.

“He would meet people at a basketball game, and they would join our team without even knowing him because that’s the kind of person he was,” Zanker said.

Santomero was working through treatments for stage four head and neck cancer when he launched Remission Possible.

His friends said he set the bar pretty high.

“If Dan, with four-stage cancer, can do 100 miles, then I can try and I’m not going to whine like a little boy,” said childhood friend Jim Mercuri, of Wallingford.

This year will be different. Their fearless leader will be there in spirit.

“Danny passed away a month ago and I will carry him in my heart the entire time I ride,” Zanker said.

Danny Santomero's girlfriend Susan and best friend Jim have memories with Danny to last a lifetime and they have one request from him to fulfill.

“Danny’s goal was to keep this team going and we’re going to do that,” Zanker said. “It is such an important cause and he is so important to all of us.”

One hundred percent of the money raised in the Closer to Free ride supports Smilow Cancer Hospital and Yale Cancer Center.

Zanker was there during his treatments at Smilow, and she said he also had access to clinical trials.

“When I went with him or his best friends went with him to treatments, they spoke to all of us and explained things and gave us options. And they were caring and supportive and kind,” Zanker said.

Which is why they plan to make the emotional ride this year without him.

“It gives us even more reason to ride and I know he’s going to be pushing me from behind,” Zanker said.

And going back to a virtual ride helps everyone set their own pace.

“If you want to do one mile, you do one mile. If you want to do five, it’s up to you,” said Mercuri, whose family even signed up this year.

“It’s even more fun. It’s good to see them really take all of this,” Mercuri said. “And everybody has people that have cancer. To not be involved seems silly. If you’re not giving, you have to ride.”

“To me, riding in Closer to Free, there’s no reason not to,” Zanker said. “It’s something we can do to raise money to help make things better for someone else.”

You can register for the Closer to Free ride here. It takes place on Sept. 11.

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