Enduring legacy of bringing people together powers 'Challenge' cyclists
People who knew Sally Richards were always impressed by her ability to bring people together.
After Richards' death at age 42 from lung cancer earlier this year, that ability is perhaps her enduring legacy.
That is evident in the efforts by her husband George, family and friends to keep her spirit alive through Ride Sally Ride (RSR), a team of bicycle riders that will pay tribute to her at the 6th annual Connecticut Challenge Charity Bike Ride in Fairfield on July 24. A total of 70 riders are already signed up for Ride Sally Ride to raise money for the cancer survivor programs the CT Challenge supports.
"The outpouring has been phenomenal," George Richards said about the response to the team. "It's not surprising though. Sally had the type of personality that could bring people together, and that is reflected by all of the people participating."
Sally Richards had ridden in the Challenge last July after being diagnosed with cancer a year prior. The ride and the experience moved her deeply, according to those who knew her. Her husband said the Challenge inspired Sally and lifted her spirits. He also knew even before her death that he was going to ride in this year's event.
"She expressed a real desire to ride in the 2010 event," he recalled. "It was very, very important to her. I thought right then that I would be riding with her."
But his wife's health deteriorated and she died in February. Sally had asked George that at the time of her passing to have donations to the CT Challenge be given in lieu of flowers. Donations poured in, and then the Richards' friends began helping to organize RSR. Many of the couple's friends will be joined by their children as part of the team.
George Richards, who has a bit of mountain biking experience but none suited to the long bike trek ahead, has dedicated training efforts to do the maximum and toughest ride.
"I am doing the 100 (miles)," he said. "I put my stake in the ground at the start of this. It's given me a goal and a focus that has been very therapeutic in my journey of being a widower."
Meg Staunton had joined Sally and two of her friends in the event last year. While they had known each other for only about two years, Staunton said, "We connected on a spiritual level."
Staunton's father was dying from cancer so she and Sally had exchanged books and lots of emotional conversation.
"The day before the Challenge (Sally) called and said, `I want to ride,' " Staunton related. "I said OK and we rode the 12 miles with her. The whole time she was laughing, her legs swinging out. That's when she fell in love with the Connecticut Challenge."
"I'm really happy that we have been able to bring a lot of people and attention to the Connecticut Challenge," George Richards said. "I'm optimistic that those participating will be really jazzed by the event and the experience, so they will want to do it again. We hope we have created the start of tradition."
Sally "set a lot of goals in her life, and she was set to go for another goal by riding in the event this year," he said. "I think even she will be surprised at the number of riders that will be part of this."
The Connecticut Challenge Charity Bike Ride will take place Saturday, July 24, at Greenfield Hill Congregational Church, 1045 Old Academy Road. For more information, check the website, http://bike.ctchallenge.org.