The Gran Fondo New York is a grueling 98.54-mile bike ride with maximum grades of 18% and elevations reaching up to 1,279 feet. Racers must be extremely fit and endure months of arduous training in preparation for the event. Shannon Fogarty completed the race in May 2015 in support of Inheritance of Hope. He raised over $15,000 – enough to send three families to the NYC Legacy Retreat® in November!
As a native New Yorker, Shannon stopped by last month’s NYC Legacy Retreat® to let us know he has a bigger goal this year. He wants complete the race in 7 hours or less (down from last year’s 8 hours, 25 minutes). He also wants to continue to pay it forward. Shannon would like to assemble a cycling team and has set a goal of raising $20,000 for Inheritance of Hope – enough to send four more families to an Orlando Legacy Retreat® in 2016, the same opportunity he and his family experienced in 2011.
He wasn’t always a biker, but in the past few years Shannon has lost 100 pounds and changed his lifestyle to become healthier. A bike that once just sat in the garage now logs up to 90 miles each weekend and a few more during the course of each week. It shares space and road time with a professional Cannondale racing bike. Arguably, Shannon, like the other racers, is in the best shape of his life. He also has an inoperable brain tumor. He is riding not just in spite of it, but because of it.
A routine case of the flu led to Shannon’s diagnosis of a grade III anaplastic astrocytoma in 2010. The tumor grew silently and asymptomatically until it had taken over a large part of his thalamus, rendering its removal impossible. He was originally given just six months to live. Since 2010, Shannon has had surgery to alleviate pressure on his third ventricle and has been on a combination of various drugs to slow the cancer’s growth.
While he is comfortable discussing his illness now, this was not always the case. An Inheritance of Hope Legacy Retreat® helped him find the tools to manage the challenges of living with cancer. Alicia, Shannon’s high school sweetheart and wife of 12 years, first approached Shannon about the possibility of attending a Legacy Retreat®. “She asked, ‘Would you want to do this?’” he recalls. “‘No,’ I immediately answered.”
Alicia persisted until the family, including then three-year-old daughter Alexa, attended the August 2011 Orlando Legacy Retreat®. At the retreat, Shannon told his story for the first time, and “I broke down,” he said. Prior to the retreat, Shannon had not openly coped with his condition, and while his assessment that he was living his life to the fullest was and still is very true, learning to ask for support was invaluable.
Surprisingly to Shannon, the group counseling sessions were his favorite part of the retreat.
“We met wonderful people on the retreat, people who told their stories and shared how they were coping. That was the biggest takeaway for me—learning how to be able to talk about it.”
His openness has served him well since the Legacy Retreat®, as a support network is always ready to care for the Fogarty family.
“People say that if you go through life with one handful of very close loved ones, you are really blessed. I have had more. I have friends I can call when I need to, people who help us in so many ways, and my wife, who is the greatest support system in the world,” Shannon notes. “And I have a daughter who understands and gives me lots of hugs and kisses.”
Shannon, Alicia, and Alexa live in Westchester, New York, and he commutes into New York City every day for his job as an associate producer on CBS’s Blue Bloods. In 2013, however, he was robbed of his ability to drive when the tumor began to cause seizures. Although he did not accept this well at first, Shannon has turned it into a positive. He now takes his bike to the train station many days, and his renewed love for cycling led him to meet other enthusiasts and take long weekend rides.
One weekend in the fall of 2013, Shannon called up Paul Alizio, an experienced biker. Paul was a serious cyclist who had been riding for years, and the two knew each other through a mutual friend.
|Shannon (left) and his riding buddy Paul|
Shannon remembers, “I just said, ‘Let’s go out and bike. It’s a beautiful day.’”
The two began biking on weekends together, and they decided to do the Tour de Bronx, an organized 40-mile ride through all the neighborhoods of the borough. After the success of the Tour de Bronx, Paul suggested that they tackle the Gran Fondo together.
Shannon had never done a ride of that caliber. “I don’t consider myself that good, but I’m gonna finish.” His determination certainly paid off. In spite of a back injury that sidelined him for four weeks, he built his training regimen up and had the stamina and confidence to finish strong.
Even though he's tackled it before, this year's race will again be intense. The start time is at 7:00 am, and Shannon wants to cross the finish line before 2:00 pm. He will begin at the George Washington Bridge in New York City, pass through 11 towns, climb four major hills, and cycle up one four-mile mountain. The first part of the race is along the Hudson River, but it quickly turns demanding around mile 30, when the riders begin ascending. At mile 40, they will reach Bear Mountain. From that point, the remainder of the race is constantly up and down.
As Shannon rides, he will be enjoying every minute.
“I find peace when I ride my bike. I go out and ride, and it’s a relief to me both physically and spiritually. When I ride, it’s awesome,” he says. “I don’t think about cancer, life, work, or anything else. Everyone should find that one thing that allows them to lose themselves in it—not to hide away from their problems, but to lose their problems.”
Choosing to ride in support of IoH was easy for Shannon. “I wanted to help the organization that helped me so much. Our time on the IoH retreat was such a blessing, and that is why I am doing this,” he explains. “There are other people much more sick than I am who really need to be touched.”
Shannon is certainly doing his part to help. He’s dedicated to sending more families like his on an IoH Legacy Retreat®. He has inspired hope in countless ways. And, of course, Alicia and Alexa will be proudly cheering for him at the finish line.
Interested in joining Shannon's team or supporting his inspiring ride? Click here!
|Alexa Cheering with Shannon after the 2015 Gran Fondo|