Three weeks before the ride, more than 650 riders have already signed up to ride in Closer to Free, the popular bike ride that raises funds for Smilow Cancer Hospital at Yale-New Haven. The cyclists — who will ride 25, 62.5 or 100 miles that day — come from throughout Connecticut as well as New York and Massachusetts. At this time last year, approximately 480 riders had signed up.
"Closer to Free continues to grow in popularity because of the institution that it supports but also because we have earned a reputation for managing the ride experience well," said Jessica Scheps, event specialist, Development. "Part of the Closer to Free reputation for excellence is based on our corps of volunteers — and we need more of them to ensure a safe and enjoyable ride for the cyclists."
One of the most memorable moments for the riders takes place at the beginning of the ride. They pedal out of the Yale Bowl and head for Smilow where they stop for a moment. Patients, employees, volunteers and visitors crowd the driveway and the windows to wave and cheer the riders on before they take off for Hamden, Durham or Old Saybrook — depending on the route they have chosen to ride.
Scheps expects that more riders will sign up before the ride and notes that currently, 20 percent of this year's riders are employees. As ride day gets closer, donations also start to flow in more steadily.
"We still have three weeks before ride day so there is time for employees or anyone interested in supporting Smilow to sign up to ride or volunteer or to donate to a rider," says Scheps, who notes that medical, massage and motorcycle volunteers are in demand this year. She points everyone towards the Closer to Free web site — www.rideclosertofree.org — where those interested can sign up to ride, volunteer or support a rider.
"Because of the commitment of employees, volunteers and riders, Closer to Free grows in popularity every year," Scheps says. "The money the ride raises goes right back into the pioneering research and superb patient care that Smilow is already so well known for. Join us this year!"