Our story began on December 17th, 2002, when Luke, our eldest son, was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia. He had just turned 5 years old. After 18 months of chemotherapy, he relapsed and it was clear he needed a bone marrow transplant to save his life. Luke’s little sister Grace, our ‘gift from God’, was a perfect match and the transplant was carried out on my father’s birthday, February 1st, 2005, at Memorial Sloan Kettering. Now, three and a half years later, he is a healthy and happy big brother to Nathan (7), Grace (6) and Bobby (2), a loving son to Brenda and me (though no kisses in public, please), every inch the normal 10 year old boy full of vitality and life.
Eighteen months after the transplant, sitting in the Darien movie theatre with Luke and Nathan, I happened to see a short film that told the story of the first CT Challenge in 2005. As I watched, two things struck me. The first was that now Luke himself was considered a cancer survivor – something which even now seems nothing short of a miracle – it was time to give something back. The second was that the 2006 ride was only one month away and that, never having ridden much further than the dry cleaners and back, I had better go and buy a bike. During that first ride, with my lungs near bursting point, the pain searing through my legs and the rain stinging my eyes, I had only to think of my son’s unending courage and determination during the years of hospital treatment to draw fresh inspiration. Last year, Luke, Gracie, Nathan and Bobby rode in the children’s ride, and Luke even led the lap of honor before the main ride. You might remember him, proudly leading the survivors in his red Manchester United soccer shirt.
Why do we ride? Of course we ride to raise as much money and awareness as we can to help those affected by the disease. We also ride to honor those who have survived, those who have succumbed, those who are battling with it as you read this, those who dedicate their lives and their careers to treating people affected by it and one day, we believe, finding a cure. Finally, we ride to remember our journey, and celebrate with all the friends and family that journeyed with us. Remembering helps us come to terms with what happened, to find a place for it in our lives, and to appreciate all the good things that flowed from it. To borrow from Lance Armstrong, whose foundation wrote Luke when he was first diagnosed to urge him (and us) to stay strong, the CT Challenge is not about the bike. It is a celebration of life by those who have learned to appreciate it.