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Biking Towards a Goal

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— September 15, 2018

Biking Towards a Goal

  • Three NaturesPlus employees saddle up to support cancer research.
  • By Violet Snow
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In a crowded suburban area like Long Island, people often want to push through traffic jams as quickly as possible. Taking things slower, however, has its advantages.

“When you bike on the same roads you drive, you notice so much more,” says Patrick Brady, quality manager for supplement manufacturer NaturesPlus. “You experience the area you live in.”

And when you bike in support of a good cause, cycling takes on a whole new dimension. That’s why Brady joined two co-workers, Joe Salzone and Armando DeJesus, to ride in the Long Island Bike Challenge, which raises money for cancer research. “When it’s not just for yourself, but you’re riding with a purpose, it gives you a little push to succeed,” says DeJesus, who works in the packaging department.

Salzone, director of operations for NaturesPlus, has been cycling for exercise since he turned 50. “I started out riding five miles around my neighborhood,” he said. “Every year, my rides got longer. The Long Island Challenge, at 62 miles, was a personal record.” The LIBC was started in 2012 by area native Edward Diller, who “wanted to make a difference in people’s lives, in the context of what I love
to do and a lot of people like to do— ride bikes, using our athletic ability to help others.”

Riders ask family and friends to sponsor their rides, with each participant required to raise $500. Diller said finding sponsors is usually not that hard to do. “When you say, ‘I’m going to ride 100 miles across Long Island,’ people want to support you. It gives them a sense of connection.”

The event has raised close to a quarter-million dollars in the last few years, with all proceeds going to the Feinstein Institute for Medical Research. Feinstein—the research branch of Northwell Health, which is headquartered in Manhasset—does studies on a number of disorders in addition to cancer, including cardiovascular disease and neurological dysfunctions.

Unlike most other fundraising rides, LIBC is not put on by a large organization but is a grassroots event. It draws 75 to 100 cyclists annually, along with numerous volunteers. Cyclists can follow the entire 100-mile course, from Wantagh to the Hamptons, or they can opt for a shorter ride that starts at either of two points in the middle. Last year, Salzone read an article about the upcoming LIBC in a local paper. DeJesus, a veteran of fundraising bike rides, was happy to come along on the 40-mile course. This year, they stepped up to 62 miles and recruited Brady. NaturesPlus sponsored all three riders, donating $500 for each of them.

Salzone is aiming for the 100-mile route next year. His bike is a Cannondale Synapse, built more for road endurance than for racing. “It’s designed for long days in the saddle,” he explains, “as it positions the rider more upright than a racing bike, which keeps you lower to reduce wind drag. I can ride all day without any wrist pain or overall fatigue.”

Brady grew up in a rural area on Long Island’s North Fork, where kids biked everywhere. When he went to college in Fredericksburg, Virginia, biking was also an important mode of transportation. After a break of a few years, he went back to cycling and has ridden in many fundraising events on Long Island’s scenic East End. He rides a Specialized Allez Comp, a super-light racing model designed for speed with minimal effort. “During our ride,” Brady notes, “I think I got it up to almost 30 miles an hour on one of our downhills.” The LIBC is a relatively flat course that provides spectacular views, looping past mansions and along the ocean.

But those coastal miles, without shade, were difficult this year, with temperatures in the high 80s and a heat index hovering around 95 degrees. The wind was blowing out of the east, so it was in the riders’ faces the entire way. “It was the hardest ride of my life,” says Salzone. “But I never thought of giving up. The last five miles, I did wonder, ‘Why am I doing this? It’s supposed to be enjoyable.’ But you keep going. You pedal through the pain.”

DeJesus has been biking for causes since 1996, after being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. Although he was virtually immobilized by the debilitating disease for three years, determination enabled him to get back on his feet. By riding with MS, he hopes to inspire others. “People who have illnesses, if they see me, they can get the idea to get up and go and not think about their illness so much,” DeJesus says. A former NaturesPlus employee has a son who is a cancer survivor, so DeJesus decided this year he would ride the LIBC in his name.

DeJesus is ready for an upgrade to his old Trek SL-1500, although he says the Trek’s bright orange color matches his bright, young personality. The three co-workers formed a team and were joined by a man who had never ridden in a long-distance event before. “We were helping him along,” said Brady. “He got a flat 10 miles in, and he didn’t know you’re supposed to ride with supplies. We helped him fix the flat.”

As a team, said Salzone, “You look back to make sure nobody’s dropped out, and you stop for breaks together to keep each other motivated. At points, you switch who’s in the lead. Since Armando and I did it last year, we knew two-thirds of the route, so it was more comfortable for us to lead.” As of this writing, Brady and Salzone planned to tour the Hamptons in late September on a 70-mile route. “Once again,” says Salzone, “we’ll be raising the bar.”

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