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Everybody Wants to Be Closer to Free

It’s not the Tour de France – in some ways, it’s better. On the morning of Saturday September 12, an estimated 1,400 bicyclists will ride out from The Yale Bowl in New Haven, forming a peloton of hope spanning 25 to 100 miles. It’s a massive charity bike ride called Closer to Free benefiting Smilow Cancer Hospital. The objective is to help fund vital cancer research in the region, while remembering loved ones and commemorating victories over the disease.

Now in its fifth year, the Closer to Free Ride for Smilow Cancer Hospital at Yale-New Haven has been ambitious from its inception. Since the first ride in 2011, millions of dollars have been raised by thousands of bike riders and their supporters, helping to expand the revolutionary work now being done at Smilow Cancer Hospital.

Smilow treats more cancer patients than any other hospital in Connecticut. The money raised by the annual Closer to Free ride helps to fund an important mission that includes over 100 innovative clinical trials, cancer genetics and prevention, leukemia and lymphoma research, advanced cell therapy, as well as comprehensive survivorship services for patients and families. Closer to Free says that 100% of the funds raised go directly to work at Smilow Cancer Hospital and Yale Cancer Center.

This year, organizers say the event will improve on last year’s turnout, and its fundraising outcome. “Registrations are tracking about 10% ahead of last year, and we’re expecting a last-minute frenzy in registration,” says Kevin Walsh, Vice President of Development at the Smilow Cancer Hospital. “We will probably end up with somewhere in the vicinity of 1,400 riders, and our goal is to raise $2 million.”

Each rider must raise a minimum of $500 in addition to the $100 registration fee. Last year, the average individual rider raised more than $1,000. The organization’s website, www.rideclosertofree.org, is a rich resource of ideas for how riders can attract donations for their individual ride. The registration deadline is Monday September 7, at 11:59pm. Questions can be emailed to rideclosertofree@ynhh.org and organizers can be reached by phone at (203) 200-2837.

In addition to the riders, more than 500 volunteers will staff hospitality offerings at The Yale Bowl, including live music, a barbecue tent, a massage tent and merchandise tent. Along the route, volunteers will also be at five water stops, as will medical personnel should riders need assistance.

Walsh points out that people don’t need to ride or volunteer to make a donation. There is broad support for the Closer to Free mission. This was clearly on display at a recent concert performance by The BoDeans on Madison Beach. Their hit song, Closer to Free, serves as the rallying cry for Smilow supporters.

Walsh says that nearly $1,500 was raised from attendees that evening, adding, “We were so pleased to get the word out among shoreline residents, and a BoDeans concert was the perfect way to do that.”

That concert was co-sponsored by Coastal Connecticut magazine. Publisher Jordan Rizza says, “Smilow Cancer Hospital is doing incredibly important work. We knew that a BoDeans concert would be a wonderful opportunity to shine a light on their efforts, raise some money, and increase awareness while having a great time.”

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