By BRIAN JENNINGS
The alarm went off at 3 a.m. on Saturday, July 16. David Rustico stuffed down a large breakfast and gathered his essentials for the long ride ahead of him. At 4 a.m., he climbed on his bicycle for an 18-mile trip to the Helen and Harry Gray Cancer Center in Avon.
Rustico was about five miles from the cancer center when disaster struck. He hit a pothole and was left with the task of changing a pinch-flattened front tire in the dark.
“I literally haven’t even started the ride yet, and I’m already getting a flat,” said Rustico. “I hope this isn’t a sign of things to come. Then I thought that maybe I’m just getting it out of the way early and nothing else will happen.”
Four years ago, Rustico found out about the Everyone Ride/Run Against Cancer Everyday (ERRACE) organization, which was created to raise the awareness of cancer, raise funds for cancer research, and inspire the community to be active and health conscious. Around that time, ERRACE started a small cycling team as an extension of the charity group.
Today, ERRACE is sponsored by the DSO Manufacturing Company in New Britain and is made up of 30 members (20 men, 10 women) racing to donate prize money to ERRACE.org. According to their website, they have helped over 56,000 donors since 1991 and have recommended nearly $10 billion in grants to 130,000 nonprofit organizations.
ERRACE holds a fundraising event once a year giving cyclists the opportunity to attempt a 25-mile, 50-mile, 100-mile, or 15-mile mountain bike route. Non-cyclists have the option of attempting a 5K run or family walk.
Rustico completed a 100-mile ride in his first year supporting the event. The following year, he was asked to join the ERRACE team and raised just over $1,500 by completing a 100-mile ride for the second time.
Rustico rode two laps (200 miles) in 2015 and raised $3,480. Then he went to Facebook.
In a post, Rustico said that he would attempt three laps (300 miles) if he raised a cent more than $3,480. In the first week of June, he did just that and kept his word.
During the course of a year, Rustico typically rides between 275 to 300 miles a week. He had been riding bikes for most of his life, but to train for the event he increased his daily rides from 90 to 100 miles per day to 140 or 150 miles each day.
Although some of his concerned Facebook followers urged him not to attempt the 300-mile ride, Rustico still received overwhelming support. Whether it was rekindling with old friends, receiving numerous donations, or writing the names of those affected by cancer on his kit, Rustico said that he felt a new sense of comfort for the ride.
“The discomfort I might feel that day is self-inflicted, and I could stop at any time and would be comfortable again,” said Rustico. “But many of the names that are on my jersey didn’t have that choice. They were in discomfort not by any choice of their own, and some for a very long time. If I get uncomfortable, that’s all I have to think about, and I wouldn’t be uncomfortable anymore.”
One person that Rustico rode for was his sister-in-law, Susan Feld, who lost her life to cancer last August. Rustico dedicated his ride in her memory.
Saturday marked the eighth year of the ERRACE.org event with about 900 people participating, raising a total of $125,000. Rustico is turning 60 years old this year, but that didn’t stop him from contributing to the event.
A flat tire in the early hours of the morning that day might have slowed him slightly, but it didn’t stop him. Rustico exchanged tires with his teammate until he made it to the cancer center. There, he fixed his own front tire before continuing his journey.
Rustico said that he had hoped to complete the first lap by 11 a.m., but he was done with his first loop at 10:25 a.m. By the end of the second lap, he had driven 220 miles and pulled back into the cancer center at 5 p.m., which was right on schedule. He made his final stop for a quick nature break at mile 260 around 8 p.m.
Rustico eventually completed his 300-mile bike ride when he pulled in to the cancer center at 10:15 p.m.
He said that he was surprised he didn’t experience any physical issues other than the contact points of sitting on the seat of his bike. However, Rustico said that he started feeling nauseous at mile 160 to 170, due to the level of sugar in the energy foods he consumed early on. But he was still able to battle the 90-degree weather.
“I’ve been doing this for so long that you get a lot of miles in your legs, and your legs have pretty good memory,” said Rustico. “It’s more of the time in the saddle and not really your legs and the stamina. Honestly, that was the toughest part of the whole ride.”
With donations still coming in, Rustico’s ride raised over $7,600, which was more than double from last year. One half of the money raised goes to the cancer center, while the other half gets donated to the Livestrong Foundation. Instead of going towards cancer research, the money is used directly for patient care and support programs for people, who have been diagnosed with cancer or their caregivers.
“I can’t even begin to thank so many of my family and friends for their support, donations, kind words, and so much more,” said Rustico. “I am speechless. I want to thank everyone so much.”
A 200-mile bike ride had always been on Rustico’s bucket list, but he said that he never had a 300-mile bike ride in his mind.
“This year, it never really had anything to do with my bucket list,” said Rustico. “It had more to do with the charity and raising funds for this cause. The funny thing is that people are asking me if I’m going to do 400 miles next year.”
Rustico said that he is not sure what he plans to attempt next year, but he plans to update his followers on Facebook on what he decides on. In October, Rustico plans to travel down to the Livestrong Foundation in Austin, Texas to take part in a 100-mile bike ride called, “Ride for the Roses.”
Donations for Rustico’s 300-mile bike ride can still be made at www.pledgereg.com/91809.