Riders Begin Final Countdown for Closer to Free

This year's Closer to Free ride has broken all records for registered volunteers and riders, with more than 2,100 riders set to participate on Saturday morning.

The final countdown has begun before thousands of bike riders pack the streets of New Haven to help raise money for cancer research in the Closer to Free ride.

Brian Heatherington is joining in on the effort to help raise money for research at the Smilow Cancer Hospital and Yale Cancer Center.

Heatherington began his Closer to Free journey four years ago and rides in honor of friends who lost their battle with cancer.

“This seemed like a bigger more kind of constructive way to draw attention to the work that Smilow Center was doing,” said Heatherington. “Once you do one, you’re going to make it a permanent thing on your calendar, it gets a little easier to get up for it each year.”

Heatherington’s close ties to Yale New Haven Hospital date back to his formative years growing up just outside of the city. He got involved in the fundraiser through his sister who works at the hospital.

This year’s list of motivation to ride is pretty long.

“One reason is one of my business partners, and the other is the sister of one of my colleagues at work, they’re both into multiple years fighting cancer,” said Heatherington.

Heatherington has two yearly traditions to look forward to each year.

The Smilow salute and meeting with his family about 3-quarters into his very long ride.

“You get to see all the patients and their care-givers, all of them greeting you and sending you off, there’s a lot of hooting and hollering by the patients which is amazing to see,” said Heatherington. “My parents, sister, friends and my wife will come out and meet me around the 75th mile and that’s an extra special little sendoff.”

Brian is a part of the Bank of America team, with a record-number of riders and volunteers set to participate.

“One of the really special parts of this ride is really the positive spirit that goes through all the participants and there’s so many riders this year,” said Heatherington. “It’s easy to do your part when you see everyone else really hustling to make it a good event.”

Heatherington has been hitting the pavement hoping to raise money for research.

“Our goal is $20,000,” said Heatherington. “Right now, I’m at $18,000 - hopefully we’ll reach our goal by Saturday.”

In preparation for his third 100-mile ride, Heatherington says he’s excited to honor the loved ones he’s lost and those still fighting each day.

“I just want to do my part, it’s just a little thing that I can do to make a little bit of you know a dent in what’s been a really terrible problem for so many people that I know,” said Heatherington.

The ride has broken all records for registered volunteers and riders, with more than 2,100 riders set to participate on Saturday morning.

"Connecticut’s Best Ride" ride benefits Smilow Cancer Hospital and Yale Cancer Center. Riders choose to take on 10, 25, 40, 65 or 100 miles on professionally designed and supported routes traveling through wooded hills and seaside vistas.

After leaving the iconic Yale Bowl after an inspiring and emotional Opening Ceremony, riders pause in front of Smilow Cancer Hospital for the Smilow Salute, where patients, doctors and nurses line the sidewalks and greet the riders to thank them.

One hundred percent of participant fundraising goes to cancer research and care, including clinical trials, survivorship programs, cancer genetics and prevention programs.

Smilow Cancer Hospital is Connecticut’s largest provider of cancer care, treating more than 45 percent of the 20,000 patients diagnosed with cancer annually in the state.

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