Longtime Trumbull High School English teacher Clayton Curtiss is preparing for his fourth Closer to Free Ride in support of the Smilow Cancer Hospital in New Haven.
“My wife and I had always been bicyclists,” he said. “We’d always done a lot of riding together.”
That was before Mary Curtiss, Clayton’s wife of 40 years, lost her balance because of a brain tumor.
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“And we didn’t ride anymore and that was one of the things she regretted most,” Clayton said.
Mary passed away in January 2015, just three months after Clayton’s 51-year-old daughter Carolyn died following her own battle with cancer.
“It was a pretty horrible time in my life,” Clayton told NBC Connecticut Wednesday morning at Smilow. “Of course you ask yourself isn't there anything you can do, is there anything I can do.”
The next summer Clayton became determined to get back on a bike, so he bought a new one better equipped for his age in Branford.
"As I’m coming along I-95 in East Haven, I look up on the billboard and there it says ‘Ride Closer to Free’ and I thought wait a minute, this is something that is a sign to me,” he said.
Today, event production company Eventage that helps Smilow put on the ride each year presented Clayton with a gift basket from one of the company’s for profit clients, Art of Shaving.
“It’s a gift, it’s an honor for us to be part of it,” Olive Isaacs from Eventage said.
Eventage plans to pass out at least 50 gift baskets with grooming products to patients at Smilow.
“These are our ‘Art of Going Home’ kits, which are luxury products for comfort and pampering to those who need it most,” Isaacs said.
After everything Clayton went through, losing two loved ones in such a short time span, he learned of his own cancer diagnosis last summer.
“My urologist said Clayton you must have surgery to have this removed,” he said, “your prostate is in such danger it’s a threat to your life.”
The first time Clayton went in for surgery, he said his heart stopped. So he had a pacemaker installed ahead of a successful operation in January.
Now, he is one month away from a 40-mile bike ride.
“I’ll be wearing a survivor jersey for the first time and that’s unexpected, but pleasantly unexpected,” Clayton said.
He’s raising money for research in hopes of making this world closer to cancer free.
“If we can eradicate cancer,” Clayton said, “what more can we leave to our generations to come except a cancer free life, I can’t think of anything better.”
NBC Connecticut is a proud media sponsor of the Eighth Closer to Free Ride on Saturday September 8. There is still time to sign up.