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Closer to Free sets the standard for virtual events


Riders might not have been able to take the traditional route past Smilow Cancer Hospital this year, but patients still got the Closer to Free “Smilow Salute” message.

bulletin Yale New Haven Health employees have long been enthusiastic Closer to Free participants, including Elizabeth Fletcher, RN, executive director, YNHH Heart and Vascular Center, who rode with her husband, David Higginson.
The 2020 Closer to Free ride proved that neither rain nor heat nor global pandemic stays the enthusiasm and support people have for the annual event. Participation and dollars raised this year far exceeded organizers’ hopes.

“This year’s event couldn’t have gone any better,” said Jessica Scheps, Yale New Haven Hospital development event specialist. “We had more than 2,100 riders participating in their homes and on their local roads. It really is a testament to how important Closer to Free is to this community and how dedicated people are to supporting Smilow Cancer Hospital.”

bulletin Susan Faraone, RN, allogeneic stem cell transplant coordinator, Smilow Cancer Hospital, has ridden in every Closer to Free ride since the event started 10 years ago.
The 2020 ride took place virtually Sept. 12, with cyclists riding in various ways to maintain social distancing amid the COVID-19 pandemic. The day started with a livestreamed opening ceremony and ended with riders congratulating one another via social media. 

The Closer to Free ride is a major fundraising event, but organizers decided to eliminate the traditional $500 pledge requirement in 2020. That did not deter participants from raising a significant sum.

“We are still accepting donations through Dec. 31,” Scheps explained. “But the amount that has been generated to this point has greatly exceeded our projections. It’s not exaggerating to say that we are all just shocked.”

The virtual Closer to Free was such a success, there are plans to keep the virtual aspect when the traditional ride eventually returns.

Scheps said, “How cool will it be to have a patient's family member, who doesn't live in Connecticut, participate in the Closer to Free ride every year? This year proved that there are people all over the country who want to be involved. I can’t tell you the number of jerseys we sent out of state. California, Florida, Vermont – we sent them everywhere, and we 100 percent want to continue to provide the virtual option to participate going forward.”