You always have to go home.
Whether it’s walking 715 miles from The Preston Robert Tisch Brain Tumor Center on the campus of Duke University, in Durham, N.C., to Village Bikes in Sarasota to raise money to fund cancer research; walking across Florida to raise money and awareness for cancer treatment; or cycling 214 miles between Sarasota and Sebring to raise money for the Team Tony Cancer Foundation, there comes a point when you need to return to where it all began.
The starting line and the finish line may look the same, but the finish line is where the story truly unfolds.
It’s the place where emotions are unleashed, victories are achieved and memories are forever etched in our minds.
For Sarasota resident Tony McEachern, the finish line is a place for camaraderie and reflection and where he can celebrate the accomplishments of his fellow riders while appreciating the future he’s been given.
Cycle of Life Weekend
On Oct. 14, Tony will join nearly 80 riders at Nathan Benderson Park in Sarasota for the start of the Cycle of Life, a 214-mile bike ride to raise money for the Team Tony Cancer Foundation. Riders will head west through winding country roads and scenic orchards toward Sebring.
Upon arriving in Sebring, riders will enjoy a relaxing evening of live music, food, refreshments and festivities. The following day, cyclists will make their way back to Nathan Benderson Park where friends and family will be waiting to welcome them.
“The finish line is by far the highlight of the event,” says Tony, who will be participating in the ride for the eighth time on a tandem bicycle. “I’m very fortunate I get to ride. I’m always wondering how many people are going to be there. Seeing everyone out there with their sleeves rolled up to help, that’s really cool.”
Following the ride, cyclists and their families and friends will celebrate their accomplishments during the PGT Finish Line Party, hosted by PGT Custom Windows + Doors, a major supporter and sponsor, which is expected to draw more than 200 people.
“Riding is nice, but the nicest thing is the finish party,” says Tony. “Just the fact that it’s over and seeing everyone having a good time – it’s so much fun. I’m not a gala guy. You have to wear jeans. Think smart casual and not a tux.”
The Cycle of Life weekend will kick off with the 2nd annual Jacket and Jeans Launch Party at 6 p.m. on Oct. 13, at Michael’s on East in Sarasota, featuring creative cuisine and live and silent auctions. Tickets for the kick-off event are $75 per person and can be purchased via www.teamtony.org.
Tony and the Team Tony Cancer Foundation
In April 2003, Tony was diagnosed with a Grade III Anaplastic Astrocytoma and given two years to live. Tony refused to give up, enduring five neurosurgeries, two years of radiation, four years of chemotherapy and several experimental treatments.
With the constant love and support of his family, friends and other cancer survivors he met along the way, Tony was able to beat cancer and has had no evidence of disease (NED) since his last treatment in 2007.
Those relationships with others going through cancer are what led Tony to create the Team Tony Cancer Foundation, which officially launched in 2010. That same year, the organization held its first Cycle for Life.
Initially created to help Tony with his medical expenses, the annual ride has since become a way to help support the Team Tony Cancer Foundation’s mission of pairing cancer survivors and cancer fighters, so those diagnosed with cancer can get the support and resources they need.
“I’m honored by all of the things the riders have done,” says Tony. “I didn’t know where it was going to go, but I knew it had to go somewhere. It all happened organically.”
Last year, the Team Tony Cancer Foundation received a medical grant to provide up to $1,500 to cancer fighters to help with expenses related to their diagnoses and travel to treatment. To be eligible, cancer fighters have to be matched with someone in the organization’s peer program.
As a result of its impact on the community and cancer survivors and fighters, the Sarasota Chamber of Commerce named the Team Tony Cancer Foundation its Healthcare/Wellness Organization of the Year for 2016.
“I never imagined it would become this,” says Tony. “That gave us some credit and validated that we are doing the right thing.”
This year, the Team Tony Cancer Foundation has already given away more than $20,000 in gas cards, flights and other items related to treatment travel. The organization is committed to doing at least $2,000 a month.
“After my diagnosis, I couldn’t run a business,” says Tony who owned Village Bikes at the time. “I didn’t know what I was going to do with my life. Today, I have a list of eight people that I’m working with and need to reach out to. It’s so cool. There’s going to be some hard days. Those are the realities, but I have a future now. I know what I’m going to be doing the rest of my life.”
Next spring, in celebration of the 15 years since his diagnosis, Tony plans to change his fundraiser to numerous one-day events in the hopes of appealing to more people. The Grand Fodo will feature races of multiple distances, including 20-mile and 50-mile rides, as well as longer rides for elite riders and tricycle rides for children.
“I’m really looking forward to that,” says Tony. “It’s time for this to grow and get more people involved. The more people that know about us, the more people we can help. Help us help others.”