WESTPORT, Conn. – Jay DesMarteau and Juliet Harker of Westport and Jonathan Mathias of Weston were strangers until cancer touched their lives in different and challenging ways — and the Connecticut Challenge came calling.
DesMarteau lost a brother-in-law to cancer, Harker is a breast cancer survivor and Mathias’ wife is being treated for breast cancer. All three were helped by the treatment and support of the Whittingham Cancer Center at Norwalk Hospital.
Now the trio are part of a team that will represent the Whittingham Center in the eighth annual Connecticut Challenge. The cycling event has become a summertime staple, growing to a brigade of more than 1,000 cyclists.
According to its website, the Connecticut Challenge seeks to “empower cancer survivors to live healthier, happier and longer lives.” Riders have the choice to ride a 10, 20, 50, 75 or 100 mile course.
Harker, who discovered her cancer doing a self-check, is amazed at how the team came together. “We hadn’t even met and we had something in common,” she said. “Last year was like an out of body experience. Now a year is passed and I’m healthy and I’m going to push myself to ride 75 miles.”
Team captain DesMarteau says the team shows how something terrible like cancer can bring people together for a positive cause.
“These are people from all walks of life coming together to push themselves physically to do something that they typically can’t do,” DesMarteau said. “You see a lot of people who don’t even ride 25 miles usually sign up for 50. It says a lot about the event. You don’t have to be a world-class athlete to ride 50 miles. You just need the guts.”
Mathias, who is new to the team this year, heard about the group from a nurse advocate while visiting the Whittingham Center, where his wife is undergoing treatment.
“I’m looking forward to Saturday’s ride. It’s been a little while since I got my bike out,” he said. “I’m hoping I start riding again after this. I used to ride a lot before the job and the kids, but I’m going to try to get in an hour here and there again.”
The Whittingham team has raised more than $7,000 for the Connecticut Challenge.