Closer to Free Ride

Music Builds Unbreakable Bond for Closer to Free Ride Cyclist

NBC Universal, Inc.

Families bond in so many special ways and one of them is through music.

“My brother was a big music fan. And one of our big connections was a love of music.”

Gina Malafronte’s younger brother Chip had an ear for rock and roll.

“And we would listen in his room [at Smilow Cancer Hospital] to Van Halen and Led Zeppelin and Grateful Dead and sort of what these old timey, I guess you might call them old timey, rock and roll bands,” Malafronte said.

It was the soundtrack to his cancer treatment.

“One day, a nurse came in and said, ‘We all want to be assigned to this room! We just we love hearing it, the music is not too loud, and we love coming in here and just seeing, you know, the bond and the love that you guys are here every day with your brother,’” she recalled.

Malafronte said she was just as amazed by the care given by the Smilow team.

“It was, it was just such a nice - it felt sort of familial, if you can say that about such an unfortunate circumstance,” Malafronte said. “We knew that we were in the best place. And we knew that our brother was receiving the best care.”

This will be her fourth Closer to Free Ride, raising money for Smilow Cancer Hospital and Yale Cancer Center. Her fundraising goal is $5,150 in memory of her brother, who died in 2020.

“5150, which is the name of my brother's favorite album by Van Halen,” Malafronte said.

She’s already reached that number and now she’s working to double it by September.

Malafronte said her motivation to do it also comes from her dad Lou, who they lost to brain cancer in 1991.

“And that was a real blow to our family,” Malafronte said. “So that was our first real experience with losing a person. You know, the person we loved so much, our nurturer, our hero.”

The Orange teacher said her first grade student Chloe is also a hero. Chloe was diagnosed with stage four neuroblastoma at nine months old. She was cancer-free by 2016.

“She is a survivor by every definition of that word. She is spunky and smart and beautiful and compassionate," Malafronte said.

Along with the inspiration comes support from her sisters Nancy and Mia, and her brother Chip. He made a playlist on her phone that she listens to on her rides.

“And sometimes I feel like I can hear him saying to me, ‘go faster, go faster than that. Go faster. You can get past that girl,’’’ Malafronte said.

She’s riding 25 miles this year on Team Craft Beer. She joined her brother-in-law a few years ago, who was already a member.

“When my brother got sick, in 2018, I thought this is the year I'm joining them. I'm not gonna sit on the sidelines this year," Malafronte said.

She’s now the second highest fundraiser on the team - all for the hospital that cared for her younger brother when she says she felt helpless.

“Riding in this ride makes me feel empowered,” Malaforte said. “I feel empowered by having this opportunity to raise some money, this money that's going towards research. There's this money that's going towards patient care and making sure that the best doctors and nurses are on the team at Smilow. That feels like something I can do.”

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