While undergoing treatment, Laura Luzzi remembers seeing the Closer to Free riders from the 8th floor of the Yale-New Haven’s Smilow Cancer Hospital.
"I looked down and saw the riders coming in and I said if I ever get out of here I’m going to volunteer," Luzzi said.
Luzzi and Denise Hindinger are close friends from the same Hamden neighborhood. Hindeinger first rode in Closer to Free in 2015 for Luzzi and in memory of her mother.
"I know she was struggling with a cancer diagnosis," Hindinger said about her friend.
In 2015, Hindinger received a bike from her family for Mother’s Day.
"Looking at my Facebook feed and Closer to Free popped across the feed and I said to my husband, 'I’ve got a bike, I’m going to do this ride, I’m going to do it in honor of Laura'," Hindinger said. "I’m also going to do it in honor of my mother I lost my mother to cancer in 2004."
Hindinger completed the first ride by herself, not knowing two months later Smilow doctors would care for her dad, Anthony DeMaio, after a prostate cancer diagnosis.
"We developed team 'Tony’s Tigers' in honor of my dad who passed away in 2016," she said.
The name was a no-brainer, Hindinger said.
"Years ago he ran an Exxon station and there was an old slogan that Exxon had, ‘Put a tiger in your tank', so we always called him Tony the tiger,” she explained.
The three bracelets on her wrist represent this being the third year Hindinger is riding and raising money for Smilow.
"A hundred percent of the dollars," she said. "That’s amazing."
Her close friend Luzzi knows how the ride directly supports research and patient care.
"Through the efforts of Smilow have been able to come up with new treatments," Luzzi said. "Which keeps me here. I walk in they said, oh she’s here, she’s alive, she’s our miracle child."
The first two years Hindinger did the 25-mile ride, but this year she’s taking on the 62.5-mile course. Luzzi is planning to volunteer at a rest stop in Hamden before returning to the Yale Bowl to greet the riders at the finish line.
There is still time to sign up for Closer to Free on Saturday, September 9.