The heavens opened about an hour after Peter LaDolce and his fellow cyclists had pedaled away from the starting line at Hamlin Beach State Park. For the next several hours, the 300 participants in that inaugural Tour de Cure on June 5, 1993, were forced to battle pelting rain, wind gusts up to 29 mph and temperatures in the low 50s. LaDolce completed roughly 70 of the 100 miles that day before inclement conditions and illness did him in. Like most of the riders, he was carted to the finish line in vans assigned to round up the weather-beaten cyclists.
No, it was not. But it wasn’t enough to deter him from trying the Manning & Napier-sponsored Tour de Cure again. And again. And again. And on June 10, LaDolce will ride in it for the 25th time, joining Robert Tretter and Andrew Statt as the only cyclists to have participated every year. Collectively, the trio has racked up more than 3,000 miles and has raised several thousand dollars for the Upstate New York Chapter of the American Diabetes Association.
“It’s kind of a badge of honor to have done this every year,’’ said LaDolce, an architect with the Rochester firm Barkstrom & LaCroix Architects. “It’s always gratifying to meet the challenge of achieving a goal you weren’t sure you’d be able to achieve. But doing it for a cause like diabetes is even more gratifying.’’
In other words, it’s not about the bike. It’s about more than 2,000 cyclists and hundreds of volunteers coming together to raise more than a million dollars, which is what happened last year, and will happen again this year as the Upstate New York chapter attempts to leapfrog Napa Valley California as the nation’s biggest fundraiser.
It’s also about raising awareness. A new person is diagnosed with diabetes in the United States every 23 seconds. One in 11 Americans has the disease. One-in-three Americans has pre-diabetes, with 90 percent of them unaware of their condition.
Statt, 48, is among those cyclists who got involved because he wanted to honor a loved one who had the disease.
“My grandfather was diabetic, so this became a way for me to remember him and give back to the community,’’ he said. “It was a good fit.’’
And it became even more personal for Statt in December 2012 when he was diagnosed with the disease.
“It was scary at first because it had taken my grandfather’s life, and I had seen how it affected others,’’ he said. “But having been involved with the Tour de Cure taught me a lot about diabetes. I knew there were a lot of riders with it, so that gave me confidence that I could manage this.”
Statt began paying more attention to his diet, and that, along with increased exercise, has enabled him to shed about 20 pounds.
“I thought, because of the biking and because I have a physically demanding job (as an overnight stocking manager with Tops Friendly Markets), I could eat whatever I wanted,’’ he said. “But I found out differently. That diabetes diagnosis was a wakeup call. I feel so much better than I did five years ago, when I was constantly thirsty and constantly going to the bathroom.”
Now, when Statt solicits donors or recruits new riders, he does so with a pitch that’s much more personal.
“It’s one thing to talk about the numbers of people with the disease,’’ he said. “It’s totally different when you are one of those numbers.”
Hearing Statt and other diabetic riders tell their stories definitely made an impression on Tretter, a 64-year-old Xerox retiree.
“I think the Tour de Cure’s impact was really driven home to me as I listened to them discuss how improvements in medication and research have helped them cope with it,’’ he said. “It was a nice reminder that the money we are raising doesn’t just disappear to cover administrative costs, but really is being used to help people in Western New York.”
Tretter also likes the way the event galvanizes the community.
“Certainly, it’s a big event for cyclists and for the diabetes cause, but it goes well beyond that,’’ he said. “Since those humble beginnings back in 1993, we’ve seen a dramatic growth not only in the number of riders, but also in the number of sponsors, donors and volunteers. The ride is so well-organized, so well-maintained, and a big part of that is the number of support people. It’s to a point now where you’ll see volunteers at the food stops who’ve been doing this for five, 10, 15 years. Plenty of familiar faces.’’
The Tour de Cure begins and ends in Webster and is structured in a way that appeals to novices as well as hard-core cyclists. There is everything from a three-mile family ride and walk, to rides of 15, 25, 40, 62 and 100 miles.
LaDolce, who’s been riding his bike since his toddling days in Fredonia, Chautauqua County, is looking forward to participating for a 25th time, but says he’s concerned because the soggy spring has prevented him from getting in as many training miles as he would prefer. But he and his bike—the same one he’s used for every previous Tour de Cure—will give it a go.
“I have some doubts,’’ he said. “I remember how I almost didn’t finish last year’s ride. But you get out there, and you try to get through it, mile-by-mile. Sometimes you have to talk yourself through the journey. You remind yourself about the reason behind the ride—finding a cure. That’s a pretty good incentive.”
Best-selling author and nationally honored journalist Scott Pitoniak is the Rochester Business Journal sports columnist.
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