closer to free

How Miles of Memories Inspire One Closer to Free Rider

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“I don’t tell her as much as I should, but my mom is the most amazing person I’ve ever met in my life,” said Colton Varholak of Orange, who spoke to NBC Connecticut about his mother Chrissy.

The kindergarten teacher is fighting breast cancer for the second time. Varholak said she was first diagnosed in 2013. Back then, he was in the sixth grade and didn’t know anyone who had it before.

“Right after that it seemed like the flood gates just kind of opened and cancer took over everything,” Varholak said.  

Several people in his life were later diagnosed with cancer: his father’s late best friend, his mom’s brother, his mom's best friend (who is also currently battling metastatic breast cancer), a close family friend (who was a teacher and track coach) and both of his grandfathers. One of them had esophageal cancer.

“He was only here for a couple years and then went into remission and is doing great to this day.”

We met at Smilow Cancer Hospital’s healing garden where Varholak has visited several times over the years.

“Anytime that somebody ends up having to fight cancer, they just always seem to end up at Smilow which is really cool because the people here are awesome,” Varholak said.

Once in grade school, he made a school project honoring Dr. Neil Fischbach, who he finally met two weeks ago.

“To meet the person that’s kept my mom and grandfather alive for the past eight years was really cool. It brought up a lot of emotions. Just kind of being able to talk to him and meet him and see how much he really cares.”

Which is why he said the Closer to Free Ride is so important, and why he took his first ride last year. Closer to Free raises money for Smilow and the Yale Cancer Center.

Varholak said it’s to support all the people in treatment and remission, and those who help them keep going.

The college student signed up for the virtual 2020 ride, choosing the 100-mile option three weeks before the big day. He said it was hard going it alone but passed lots of Closer to Free riders along the way.

“Even though it was virtual the community still really came together especially in my first year. It was super cool to see everybody out supporting a good cause.”

And he got support from a stranger in a moment when he thought he couldn’t go any further.

“We just start exchanging stories. He asked me why I was riding, who I was riding for, how my ride had been,” Varholak said.

He’s looking forward to finding freedom in sharing his story with other riders this year and having his mom there to see it.

“Seeing her be able to get out and cheering us on would be super meaningful to me. It would really mean the world.”

He’s started Team M.O.M. which stands for “miles of memories” for all those he knows with cancer. He also has friends lined up to join the ride.

They’ll all be out there raising money for Smilow Cancer Hospital as Chrissy continues her fight there against cancer.

“Right now she just started a new treatment and things are looking okay, so hopefully that trend continues and we get a lot more time with her.”

NBC Connecticut is the proud media partner of the Closer to Free Ride.

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