By Alicia Dziak

Last year, Springville’s Amy Dickinson and her friend and local running buddy, Heather Sopko, took on the challenge of the Empire State Ride, a 500+ mile cycling journey across New York State to benefit Roswell Park. This year, the pair plans to do it once again, July 29 to Aug. 4.

The Empire State Ride comes on the heels of the Ride for Roswell in June, which welcomed 7,740 riders and an additional 2,000 volunteers who are now celebrating a significant fundraising milestone that will impact the lives of patients fighting cancer. This year’s event not only surpassed its fundraising record but shattered it, with a grand fundraising total of $5.2 million. To date, The Ride has raised more than $48 million for cancer research and patient care at Roswell Park. After months of fundraising, riders of all ages and cycling experience embarked on 11 routes ranging from 3 to 102 miles.

“I’m riding the Empire State Ride to raise money for cancer research and patient programs at Roswell Park. Right now, cancer researchers are making incredible strides against cancer in many areas, but two in particular are genetics and immunotherapy,” said Dickinson.

Dickinson, whose mom and aunt are both cancer survivors, said that last year, many of the 100 riders were cancer survivors. “Some were barely out of treatment and got on the bike to tackle 546+ miles and too many hills to count,” she explained. “Hearing their stories and seeing their strength and courage helped me put my own struggles into perspective. Knowing that I’m playing a small role in their effort is very empowering.”

She said the entire group became one big family. “We really enjoyed the time spent together cycling, eating meals, watching movies, playing lawn games and just hanging out.”

Sopko agreed that the people were amazing. “It was such an honor to be a part of this group,” she said. “Last year, approaching the finish line brought tears to my eyes. I just knew I had to do it again.”

Sopko explained that last year, she was a little more nervous since she didn’t know what to expect, but that because it’s not a race in which participants are working toward personal best times, it’s more about staying together as a group and making a difference. She encourages more people to join in next year and said, “Anyone can do this!”

For every one dollar in donations, Roswell Park is able to leverage another $13 in grant funding to further their work in immunotherapies, engineered cellular strategies and biologics that are matched to an individual tumor’s DNA. All money raised stays in WNY.

Dickinson noted, “Cancer is one of those diseases that make people feel powerless. Whether you are the patient yourself or a friend or family member, you feel helpless. I am not a doctor and I am not a scientist, but by taking on this challenge, not just the ride itself, but the fundraising minimum, too, I feel like I can do something about this disease.”

Every donation, big or small, helps. To donate, visit or mail to Empire State Ride, Roswell Park Alliance Foundation, P. O. Box 644, Buffalo, NY 14240. (Make checks payable to Roswell Park Alliance Foundation and remember to put “Amy Dickinson” or “Heather Sopko” in the memo field.)

In addition, there is a fundraiser for the Empire State Ride planned for Friday, July 6 at Resurgence Brewing Company, at 1250 Niagara St. in Buffalo. The event will be held from 5 to 8 p.m. and the $25 donation includes a beer blast, food, music, cash bar, basket raffle and 50/50 drawing.