By Alicia Dziak
Anyone who runs in or around Springville has probably seen Amy Dickinson and Heather Sopko running along the sidewalks or main roads, or waved hello to them as they’ve passed you in local races. This summer, the pair is taking on a new challenge—the Empire State Ride, a 532-mile, seven-day bike ride from Manhattan to Niagara Falls that raises money for Roswell Park.
“As an employee at Roswell Park, I’ve known about this event and have talked with others who participated. It sounded like a terrific challenge, like a marathon, but with friends,” said Dickinson. “The money we raise goes to cancer research and patient programs at Roswell Park. Like everyone else, cancer has affected my family, too. My mom and aunt are both cancer survivors who were treated at Roswell Park. My feisty grandmother, the one I named my daughter after, was a patient at Roswell back in the 1970s. I can’t think of a better way to make this effort, physically and financially, have a meaningful impact. The money also stays in Western New York, so people I know, you know, we know will benefit from it.”
“(Amy) approached me with the idea of a new challenge…I accepted the challenge knowing that it would be a rewarding experience for myself and others while supporting Roswell’s cancer research,” added Sopko. “I will ride each of the 500+ miles in honor and memory of my family, friends and all people that have been affected by cancer.”
Dickinson and Sopko are no strangers to long-distance events. “Heather and I began running marathons in 2011, and the Buffalo Marathon on Memorial weekend will be number 12,” explained Dickinson. “We have trained for every marathon together. Running so many miles for so many hours together has helped pull us through some tough times. It still does. Last year, I turned 50, and this year Heather will. We wanted to take on a new adventurous challenge to celebrate the fact that we can still do these crazy things.”
The women, who are new to cycling, have spent and plan to spend a lot of time preparing. “We have been in full marathon training, and are now in tapering mode. The day after the marathon, we will be on our bikes, trading in our running shoes for our new wheels,” said Dickinson. “We are not cyclists, so as newbies, we need a lot of instruction from friends and other riders doing the ESR. We have had to learn hand signals, how to ride in a pace line, take turns drafting, change tires, shift gears appropriately, maintain cadence, this is all new to us. But it’s a lot of fun!”
“As cycling is new to both Amy and myself, we don’t have a set training plan just yet,” said Sopko. “My attempt began with some cycling classes at the gym, Springville Health and Fitness. This allowed me to get acquainted with a bike and the different riding positions. I attended a ‘new bike clinic’ where I learned about bike maintenance and safety. I learned how to change a flat tire and clean and lube a chain among many other things. We have gotten together with the Roswell team for a 35 mile ride, during which we were given many tips by the veteran riders.”
Dickinson and Sopko must each raise $3,500. They are about halfway there and are asking the community to help.
The duo is also planning some fundraising events to help reach their goal. “I am selling tickets to a fundraiser, a 3-hour cruise on the Miss Buffalo on June 8 at 6 p.m.,” Dickinson said. “Tickets are $35 and include food, music, cash bar, basket raffles and 50/50s throughout the night. (I’ve heard we plan to raffle off a bike!) This is a family-friendly event so it would be a great way for a family to celebrate a graduation or a birthday.” If interested in attending, contact Dickinson at 474-1993.
Dickinson is also having a garage sale at her mom’s house in Lancaster June 1-3. “Her neighborhood holds an annual multi-family sale and this year, all my proceeds from the sale will go toward my Empire State Ride fundraising,” she explained.
Dickinson gave a shout out to local businesses and individuals who have already given generously: M&M Holland Propane, Springville Eye Care and Hamburg Physical Therapy.
“I have received so much support thus far,” Sopko added. “Gowanda Elementary School, where I teach, has been collecting coins to donate to Roswell to help me reach my goal.”
“$3,500 is a heavy lift and 532+ miles is a lot of pedaling. But, it’s nothing compared to fighting this disease,” noted Dickinson. “Medical science has made so many advancements and for some diagnoses, the cancer is quite curable, or even preventable, or it can be treated as a chronic, but not terminal, disease. For other diagnoses, however, patients have fewer options and that’s what cancer research aims to solve.”
Anyone can donate online at www.empirestateride.com—click on the “Donate” button where you can enter a last name to pull up Dickinson or Sopko’s fundraising pages.
Donations can also be made by mail, by sending a check made out to the Roswell Park Alliance to Roswell Park Cancer Institute, Elm & Carlton Streets, Buffalo, NY 14263. Be sure to write their names on the memo line.
The Empire State Ride is a fully supported, seven day cycling adventure across New York State to support cutting-edge cancer research at Roswell Park Cancer Institute. Cancer has impacted the lives of so many people we know, and we believe that finding a cure is possible in our lifetimes. We’re coming together to ride as a community to change the future of cancer research; to make what’s possible into reality. To create a world without cancer. For more info, visit www.empirestateride.com