Bike rides of up to 100 miles on a hot summer day were nothing Saturday for more than 1,000 bicyclists whose real “Challenge” was to conquer their cancer diagnosis and to help others beat the disease.

More than $1.7 million dollars was raised a range of cancer treatment and recovery-related programs by more than 1,300 bicycle riders in the 11th year of the CT Challenge fundraising bike rides. The routes, ranging from 10 to 100 miles, stretched primarily through sections of Westport and Fairfield, with riders — some led by cancer survivors, others dedicated to friends and loved ones with the disease — pedaling to raise money through pledged support.

The biking routes planned by the Southport-based cancer charity started and ended at the Fairfield County Hunt Club in Westport.

“This is our fifth year doing this,” said Chris Walker, who traveled from Boston for the event. “It’s incredible.”

“My stepmother passed away from cancer,” he said, adding that the CT Challenge ride is a way to honor her memory.

“We want to thank all the 1,340-plus riders this morning,” said Jeff Keith of Fairfield, the CT Challenge founder and CEO. “It’s a record.”

Among the riders this year were more than 100 cancer survivors, all of whom assembled for the start of the event with hundreds of others friends, relatives and volunteers on the hunt club grounds.

“After hearing Jeff Keith’s inspiring story, I became even more inspired,” said Giacomo Brancato, a Fairfield teen who has fought his cancer into remission and was a featured speaker at the opening ceremony. Brancato, who led a team in the event, is an athlete at Fairfield Warde High School.

Keith, whose right leg was amputated above the knee because of a malignancy when he was 12, gained national note when he completed a cross-country run — using a prosthetic leg — from June 1984 to February 1985.

“I went through six months of chemo and had a lot of setbacks, but I never gave up,” Brancato said. “I will always be grateful to the (CT Challenge) center for supporting me … and I congratulate everyone here for riding.”

Not everyone has been as fortunate as Brancato, however.

George Richards of Fairfield was one of many participating in the event who has suffered a loss to cancer — his wife Sally died from cancer in 2010. “It’s in her memory,” he said of the Ride Sally Ride team.

“My mom’s best friend lost her battle with cancer,” said Will Maggio, 13, of Wilton. “That’s why I’m riding.”

Others have come from even farther away to carry on the tradition and celebrate the memories.

“My brother, Matt Merchant of Fairfield, was riding in this ride and he passed away a couple weeks ago,” explained Brian Coate of Shaker Heights, Ohio. “We’re riding in his honor.”

Sheila Powers-Casinelli, who grew up in Westport and now lives in Huntington, lost her father 10 years ago, but participates in his memory. “He did this ride,” she said.

“I have, fortunately or unfortunately, 14 names on my helmet, and only half of them are survivors,” said Celie Campbell of Fairfield, who has seen the extreme pain the disease can cause. “I’m riding for the day when I won’t have any ‘In Memory’s Of’ on my helmet and they’ll all be survivors.”

Visit for more about the CT Challenge and its programs.