Biking 3,700 miles across 11 state lines, Gene Connor endured 115-degree temperatures, two straight days of rain and even had large dogs chasing him.
But it was all worth it.
Connor, 49, of Northport, raised $20,000 for Sunrise Day Camp, a day camp in Wheatley Heights for children with cancer and their siblings. His goal is to raise $50,000.
Connor began his bike trek in San Diego, Calif. two months ago and crossed the finish line Friday on the grounds of the Sunrise Day Camp. He said the trip is one he won’t soon forget.
“I met a lady named Lisa in Virginia who lost her father to cancer and she gave us money right out of her pocket to contribute to the Sunrise Day Camp,” Connor said. “I would speak at radio stations, news stations and newspapers getting the word out and people have been incredible.”
Two years ago, Connor began working at Sunrise Day Camp teaching drama — an experience he describes as enlightening.
“Fighting cancer is a battle and I am willing to fight the battle for the kids. I am riding for them,” he said. “While I was riding, I knew I couldn’t stop because I had to help all the amazing children that are fighting cancer.”
Six years ago, cancer hit very close to home for him. Connor's mother Monika, 67, and three sisters Winnie, 40, Tamara, 38, and Angela, 35, were all diagnosed with cancer.
"They were my driving force,” he said. “They all were dealing with different types of cancer — uterine, cervical, ovarian and skin cancer.”
Their diagnosis motivated the Syosset High School drama teacher to make a difference.
Alongside Connor on the 3,700-mile trek was his wife Amy, 52, daughter Sarah, 13, and 9-year-old twin sons, William and James. Sarah rode 400 miles total while her brother rode 100 miles.
As the designated van driver, Amy Connor admitted the trip was quite challenging at times.
“Taking on this type of trip is almost incomprehensible because you don’t picture that there is no place to stop in the middle of the desert, you don’t picture the dogs chasing you and you don’t completely picture how hard it will be to climb mountains. This was absolutely a trip of a lifetime,” she said. “We met the most extraordinary people along the way.”
Gene Connor's student Justin Bergson, 16, was thrilled to greet him at the finish line.
“He is the best teacher,” Bergson said. “He is so committed to everything he does.”
Gene’s father-in-law Morton Fortgang, of Port Jefferson, couldn’t be prouder.
“I think riding a bicycle from San Diego is amazing,” said Fortgang. “I also think that the whole family doing it as a unit for such a worthy cause is amazing.”
Sunrise Day Camp development associate Amy Pilott was appreciative for Gene Connor’s tremendous contribution.
“We admire his dedication and courage,” she said. “It is an incredible journey he went on for the camp and we are very thankful.”