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closer to free 2015

Members of the YNHH and Smilow Cancer Hospital Leadership teams greeted participants at the start of the Closer to Free ride at Yale Bowl, including (l-r) Peter Schulam, MD, PhD, interim director of the Yale Cancer Center and physician-in-chief, Smilow; Abe Lopman, senior vice president, Operations, and executive director, Smilow; Kevin Walsh, vice president, Development; and Marna Borgstrom, CEO, YNHH.

Closer to Free ramped up the wow factor for the fifth anniversary of the fundraising bike ride Sept. 12.

Called the best organized ride in Connecticut, the event didn't disappoint the more than 1,250 riders who chose to pedal 25, 62.5 or 100 miles (road construction and detours made the actual distances 25.6, 66.3 and 105.9 miles) to benefit patient care and research at Smilow Cancer Hospital at Yale New Haven and Yale Cancer Center. Ride organizers anticipate funds raised will surpass last year's record $1.7 million; final totals will be available after Sept. 30 when fundraising officially closes.

"We had our biggest turnout yet, with more riders and volunteers than last year," said Kevin Walsh, vice president, Development. "Closer to Free is the culmination of a year's work by so many talented staff and dedicated volunteers, and we never forget why we're doing this.

From the moment you step into the Yale Bowl at dawn and see the first survivors greeting and hugging each other, it's the most gratifying and rewarding event you can imagine."

During a touching, symbolic moment at the opening ceremony, the Closer to Free bike (donated by Zane's Cycles and signed by cancer survivors) was passed from the stage into the crowd and touched by survivors until it landed in the hands of a young boy who led the riders out of Yale Bowl to Smilow Cancer Hospital. The boy, who was treated at Smilow, has been receiving physical therapy with the goal of riding a bicycle. He was nominated for the honor by his physical therapist at Smilow, Scott Capozza.

Riders included 145 YNHH employees from a wide variety of departments. "I've been a fan of Closer to Free since the first year," said Julie Beck, RN, who works part-time at Smilow. Beck's involvement is personal and professional; she lost a cousin to cancer while she was a student doing her clinicals at YNHH. She has organized teams four out of the five years, often riding with her son, a bicycle messenger in Boston. Unlike her son, Beck said she only gets on a bicycle the day of Closer to Free, yet she rode the 62.5 miles. During the ride, she was surprised when she passed her cousin's childhood home in Guilford. "She was the reason I went into oncology nursing. I saw firsthand the impact the nurses had on her care, and it became very important for both of us that I become a good nurse," Beck said.

Team-building is an added benefit for many YNHH participants, thanks to riders like Beck and Maureen Raucci, RN, patient service manager, Medical/Oncology (NP 12). Raucci and her teammates donned pink cycling socks to commemorate their support of Closer to Free and its commitment to fund resources and treatment options for people with cancer.