Alumni reconnect in New York for endurance bike ride to raise funds for cancer research

You know you have good friends when they agree to join you on a fundraising bicycle trip that stretches across the state of New York.

Laker alumni Joyce Ohm, Chas Hoff and Victor Cardenas, who now serves the university as a member of the Board of Trustees, completed the weeklong Empire State Ride, a 560-mile trek from New York City to Niagara Falls that raises money for cancer research at Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center.

It's Ohm who has the connection to Roswell Park. For the past six years, Ohm, ’96, has worked at Roswell Park, in Buffalo, New York, as a cancer researcher. 

"I call Roswell Park the goldilocks of cancer centers," said Ohm, associate professor and interim chair of the Cancer Genetics and Genomics department. "It's not too big yet, not too small. It's why I wanted to come here, to conduct research and still be able to connect to the patients and their families."

three friends stand in front of tree in bicycle shorts and shirt that designate them as Empire State Ride participants
From left are Chas Hoff, Joyce Ohm and Victor Cardenas, who participated in the Empire State Ride, an endurance bicycle ride that raises money for cancer research.
Image Credit: courtesy photo

Ohm was not an avid cyclist when she participated in her first Empire State Ride in 2019, and admitted that to her friends on Facebook. Her post caught the attention of Chas Hoff, ’97. 

"I saw Joyce's post and it intrigued me because I had just gotten back into cycling. And I knew if Joyce was involved, it was something special," said Hoff, who lives in Cleveland, Ohio, and works for NASA as a public affairs specialist.

Cyclists — there were 240 this year — ride about 80 miles each day and camp at night. They are supported with meals, medical attention and a logistics team. Participants are expected to raise at least $3,500; riders this year raised $1.5 million for Roswell Park.

Cardenas, ’00, noted what his friends accomplished during past rides and wanted to join them in July.

"It's a fantastic challenge and a great cause," said Cardenas, who is the assistant city manager for the City of Novi. "I'm so glad we were able to reconnect. Throughout the ride, I heard unbelievable stories of perseverance from cancer survivors. I am so glad I had the opportunity to do this with my Grand Valley classmates."

Hoff said the ride was therapeutic at times. "You can ride with others or go by yourself for the times you need therapy and not a lot of other people around," he said. Like many riders, Hoff rode in memory of his mother and grandmother, who both died from cancer.

All three alumni served in student government while attending Grand Valley and said they still draw from that experience. "The leadership opportunities we had were pivotal for me, for all of us," said Ohm, who was president of Student Senate in 1995.

Hoff said he took the university's values to heart. "What I appreciate about Grand Valley is, as part of its value system, the servant leadership mindset that is cultivated among students," he said. "Giving back is being part of the solution. The university nurtures that in Student Senate and elsewhere."