How he rolls: Lower East Sider rides vs. cancer

Lower East Sider Matthew Strong will be doing the New York-spanning Empire State Ride To End Cancer, starting this Sunday. Photo courtesy Michael Strong

BY BRENDAN KIRK | More than 100 cyclists from around the country will embark on a seven-day 540-mile trek from Wagner College on Staten Island to Niagara Falls on Sunday to raise money for cancer research. All of the proceeds from the Fourth Annual Empire State Ride will go to the Roswell Park Cancer Institute, one of the first centers in the country to be named a National Cancer Institute-designated comprehensive cancer center.

Matthew Strong, a Pratt Institute graduate and Lower East Side resident, with a design studio in Lower Manhattan, will be joining the pack this year. His journey with the Empire State Ride started with his support of a friend of his, Steve Mars, who had participated in the event before. Then, after Strong recently witnessed his wife win a four-month battle with skin cancer and also experienced his best friend’s father-in-law lose his fight against pancreatic cancer, he decided — with a small amount of urging from Mars — that it was time to do his part in the effort against the disease.

Strong said he’s excited not just for the physical challenge, but also the opportunity to make some new friends along the way.

“Cycling is something that we’re going to be doing for seven days in between hanging out with our new best friends. Everyone is going to have a great day for seven days straight,” he said.

Originally from Appleton, New York, just outside Buffalo, Strong grew up familiar with Roswell Park. He is excited to reunite with family and says that this is a “big push” for him. A self-described weekend warrior, Strong often bikes 70 to 100 miles in a day, his lengthy rides bringing him into New Jersey and sometimes Connecticut. However, he has never done this many days back to back and is excited to test himself.

“Getting fresh air is a nice escape for me,” Strong said.

The ride’s first leg is about 57 miles. The cyclists will take the Staten Island Ferry to South Ferry and work their way up Manhattan’s West Side along the Hudson River greenway and Fort Washington Park greenway, crossing the George Washington Bridge to a campground near Stony Point. From there, participants will continue their trek north along the Hudson Valley until reaching Duanesburg on Day 3. After spending the night at another campground, the cyclists will then cut west into central New York State, well on their way to Niagara Falls.

Strong is anticipating his wife cheering him on as he cycles up Manhattan and also greeting him at the finish line in Niagara Falls. The first three days are what he looks forward to the most — they are the days with the most uphill riding, something Strong describes as a weak point of his. The group’s Facebook page, however, serves as a strong support group and participants receive a lot of encouragement for the upcoming ride.

“Think of it as a bunch of 20-mile rides that you just string together in a day,” one rider explained.

A member of the National Comprehensive Cancer Network, Buffalo’s Roswell Institute, with 3,263 employees, is entirely focused on preventing future cancer and curing existing cancer.

Organizers hope to raise more than $1 million to help in the development and foundation of cancer research initiatives, including carrying out Phase II testing for a new brain cancer vaccine named SurVaxM, advancing a research initiative to develop new therapies for ovarian cancer, and funding Roswell Park’s Center for Personalized Medicine, which develops and carries out genetic testing to enhance cancer treatment.

“By raising critically needed funds for research, our participants are influencing the future of cancer research and helping us take the next step toward creating a world without this disease,” said Bryan Sidorowicz, the event’s director.

Meals are provided for participants, and hydration stations are located every 15 to 20 miles along the route. The Empire State Ride brings together people who share the same goal: winning the fight against the deadly scourge of cancer. The unique and active challenge also aims to bring its participants closer together as they pedal through some of the most beautiful scenery in New York.

The Empire State Ride is open to riders of all levels and offers the option of riding between one and seven days. It even suggests a short route for riders unable to ride the 70-plus miles required on most days. To register, find information and donate, visit EmpireStateRide.com.