BANGOR, Maine — There are three reasons that about 75 local residents got onto stationary bikes in the center of the Bangor Mall on Saturday: to raise awareness of cancer, to raise funds to fight the deadly disease, and to promote health and wellness, organizers said.
Among the pack of stationary cyclists was Bangor resident Jeff Bennett, who was diagnosed with breast cancer seven years ago and who helped to organize the event, which raised money for the Lance Armstrong Foundation’s Livestrong organization.
“Cancer doesn’t have to control your life,” he said. “There is 28 million people living with cancer today, and we want to fight with them.”
Bennett was playing golf in 2003 when he noticed a bump on his right breast. At first the 41-year-old thought it was a bug bite. He never dreamed it was breast cancer, but the bump was cancerous.
With no family history of cancer, the diagnosis came as a surprise to the athletic man who never smoked. To fight the aggressive stage-two breast cancer, he had his right breast tissue removed and went through four cycles of chemotherapy. That was seven years ago, and nowadays it would be hard to tell Bennett had cancer.
He said he’s living proof, just like internationally known cyclist Armstrong, that people can overcome cancer.
Bennett was on a bicycle ride with James Gerety of Orono last summer when the duo came up with the idea of an indoor cycling fundraiser during the winter to benefit cancer research. They spoke with Sherry Haller, owner of Union Street Athletics, and Scott Kahkoner, a personal trainer and group fitness instructor, and decided to partner up for the fundraiser.
“January is perfect because people are thinking about exercise” and it’s cold outside, Gerety said. “We can raise awareness through cycling and [demonstrate] a healthy lifestyle.”
Twenty-five stationary bikes were set up at the mall’s center court, and three separate cycling classes were held, led by Kahkoner, to demonstrate how the USA classes are run.
Each rider paid $20 to participate, and donations from mall shoppers were accepted, with all of the funds going to the Livestrong organization, Heller said. Livestrong.org provides links to cancer resources and promotes cancer research, Bennett said.
Local radio personality Mike Dow read about the event on Facebook and came with his checkbook to make a donation.
“I wanted to come out and show my support,” he said, adding that he has several friends who recently found out they have cancer.
Cancer is a disease that touches everyone, said Gail Kelly, Brewer resident and state director for U.S. Sen. Olympia Snowe.
“I don’t think there is anybody who doesn’t know someone who has cancer or who has died of cancer,” she said. “This event is awesome. Jeff is my hero.”
Many of the cyclists at Saturday’s event also are part of Kelly’s Cruisers, a cycling team that bikes in the MS Great Bicycle Escape and other benefit rides to raise funds to battle multiple sclerosis.
In the pack of cyclists were WABI TV meteorologist Todd Simcox, WVII TV reporter Nicole Gerber, “Back to Business” radio host Deb Neuman, Elizabeth Sutherland of Sutherland Weston Marketing Communications, and Bob Zeiglaar, former Bangor International Airport director.
Ric Tyler of Blueberry Broadcasting explained to the mall crowd what was about to happen just before the first group started its 35-minute exercise class.
Before he got onto his own stationary bike to participate, Tyler quipped, “Ride like you stole it.”
Those interested in making donations can go directly to Livestrong.org, Bennett said.