Using a hand to shade my eyes from the glare of the morning sun on the lawn of the Fairfield County Hunt Club last Saturday morning, I looked out on a sea of more than 1,000 bicyclists and thought, "How awesome and beautiful is this?"

The CT Challenge fundraising ride to raise money for cancer-survivor programs was about to start. A friend who works for the CT Challenge invited me for the opening ceremonies.

Bikers of all ages, including about 85 survivors, were among individuals and teams riding for various dollar amounts.

They would pedal routes ranging from 10 to 100 miles. The CT Challenge is not a race, but a celebration of cancer survivors.

This was clearly a morning for tears of joy and hope, and there were some moments when I simply couldn't hold back my own emotions. For instance, when survivors were saluted and marched up a symbolic path of honor, that moment gave me goose bumps and an indescribable rush of adrenaline.

While this bike ride is clearly for the millions of cancer survivors, I couldn't help thinking of so many relatives and friends I've lost to cancer and how valiantly they waged their battles. This should be a celebration for them, too. So I cheered long and loud.

One young man, who survived multiple tumors and thought he'd never ride, spoke bravely of his battle and about how exercise and nutrition brought him to this first ride for him in the CT Challenge. The cheering was deafening.

The ride officials gave one last warning to all riders. Because roads would not be closed, all riders would need to be extremely careful not to tangle with motorists. The officials cautioned that in any car vs. bike collision, the car would win.

Just before the riders were sent on their way, the CT Challenge folks paid one more tribute to the 85 survivor cyclists. Bridgeport Hospital, one of the sponsors, had arranged a surprise: 85 monarch butterflies were released into a vivid blue sky.

Suddenly, the sky was awash in butterflies, and that's when I really lost it. It was such a powerful and unforgettable moment. I couldn't remove my sunglasses, because my eyes were covered with tears.

And then the riders were off on their individual and group journeys. First we cheered the 100-mile riders. It seemed to me that there were more than 100 of them, parading past and basking in the cheers and shrieks.

We just kept on cheering as the rest of the riders were turned loose in various increments until the last group, mostly young children, moms, dads and some seniors rode past the crowd. It was a beautiful sight.

The nonprofit CT Challenge operates a survivorship center in Southport, which offers a variety of services. Several colleagues I met that morning reinforced how worthwhile the organization is.

One, for instance, told me that when you experience something like this ride and see the work the organization is doing, you can't help but want to cheer and get involved. I couldn't agree more.

The center for survivorship is the first of its kind in the world. I learned that all cancer survivors have a place where they can come to be recognized for the their strength and empowered in their ongoing recovery.

I learned that the mission of the CT Challenge and the center is to create awareness about post-cancer treatment and survival and offer a supportive environment reminding cancer survivors that they are not alone.

I learned that the CT Challenge Survivorship Network, launched in May of 2009, works to improve the lives of 170,000 cancer survivors in Connecticut by making quality survivorship care accessible.

Nineteen cancer care organizations throughout the state are part of the network, and it impacted more than 54,000 survivors in 2012. That's quite a track record.

The CT Challenge helps empower cancer survivors to live healthier, happier and longer lives by creating and funding unique programs, offering credible resources and building a community of support, education and research.

Jeff Keith, who survived cancer at age 14 and went on to found CT Challenge, said more than 100 survivors from throughout the state regularly visit the Center for Survivorship for sessions about nutrition, exercise, understanding the impact of medications, and walk and talks for support and emotional issues among other support areas.

As I drove home from the hunt club, past riders of all ages, I was grateful to have been invited to this special and touching event. Maybe, I thought, I could ride a few miles next year. But that remains to be seen.

Steven Gaynes is a Fairfield writer, and his "In the Suburbs" appears each Friday. He can be reached at