Kim Olenoski, laughs and smiles, remembering her mother.
“My mom was hilarious,” Olenoski said. “We had two names for her. Elaine, from Seinfeld because of her crazy dance moves and the Energizer Bunny because she never stopped.”
Jackie Heins was an athlete. She was an all-state basketball player in high school, who remained active into her adult life.
In March of 2015, she was diagnosed with stage-4 colon cancer and treated at Yale-New Haven’s Smilow Cancer Hospital.
Olenoski said treatment at Smilow gave their family 20 more months together and allowed her mother to meet several personal goals.
“My son was born. She became a Mimi for the second time and her main goal was to get to my brother’s wedding and dance with my brother,” said Olenoski.
Heins went into hospice three days after her son’s wedding and sadly and passed away six days later in November 2016, at age 58.
Today, Olenoski honors her mother through the Closer to Free Ride.
“I think about her the whole time.” she said. “I talk to her. I make jokes to her. Like do you think this is funny that your daughter is on a bike, riding for you?”
Team “Jackie Strong,” now in its third year, has raised a combined $42,000. The growing team has 15 riders including a new addition this year, Jackie’s best friend, Debbie Pantera.
“I’ve actually wanted to ride every time we started but, I didn’t have a bike,” said Pantera with a laugh.
Pantera had been friends with Heins since 1971 when they were high school freshmen at Sacred Heart Academy in Hamden.
She was also a pediatric oncology nurse for 39 years, including ten years at Smilow. This ride is personal for Pantera on many levels.
“This money raised will go to research and directly to Smilow and that’s very important,” Said Panters. “We need to find a cure. This has to stop.”