In one year, Closer to Free almost doubles in size

Patients, volunteers and staff turned out to cheer on the riders as they passed Smilow Cancer Hospital.
Patients, volunteers and staff turned out to cheer on the riders as they passed Smilow Cancer Hospital.

In only its second year, Closer to Free — the bicycle ride that raises funds for cancer care and research at Smilow Cancer Hospital and Yale Cancer Center — doubled the number of riders who participated in it.

After the crowd heard from Thomas Lynch, MD, physician-in-chief, Smilow, Marna P. Borgstrom, YNHH CEO, and former patient and survivor Joe Capobianco, 485 riders glided out of the Yale Bowl. They rode to Smilow Cancer Hospital where they paused as YNHH staff, volunteers, therapy dogs and patients on the sidewalk and from the windows cheered the riders who then headed off to their chosen route of 25, 65 or 100 miles.

This year's Closer to Free garnered more than $175,000 in sponsorships and may raise as much as $800,000 when all donations are tabulated on the last day for giving on September 30. Each rider pledged to raise at least $500.

Volunteers played a crucial role in the success of the ride. More than 370 volunteers — 41 of whom were survivors — worked at the Yale Bowl and at five rest stops along the three routes. More than 130 of the ride's volunteers were YNHH employees.

"Closer to Free is developing into a premier cycling event in Connecticut because of the work of Smilow Cancer Hospital," said Kevin Walsh, vice president of the Development Office, which organizes the ride. "So many people are touched by cancer. Closer to Free gives them the opportunity to remember their loved ones and support the excellent work and research of Smilow and Yale Cancer Center."

Of the almost 500 riders, 46 were survivors, including Cathy Gautot, revenue cycle data coordinator, YNHHS. Free of cancer for seven years, she began training for the 25-mile ride earlier this year and lost almost 60 pounds in the process.

"Riding in Closer to Free was such an incredible experience for me," said Gautot, who is already planning to ride 65 miles next year. "I am so proud to be a small part of this wonderful cause and can't even express what everyone's support and encouragement meant to me. This ride made me realize how truly fortunate I am and it gave me the opportunity to support others as they fight cancer."