To continue honoring her husband’s memory and help raise hundreds of thousands of dollars for Smilow Cancer Hospital, Stacey Hubbard is at the front of the pack as Carl’s Crusaders kicks its fifth fundraising season into high gear.
Right now, Stacey is spreading the word about team Carl’s Crusaders being a beneficiary of Guilford Knights of Columbus Fish Fry Friday on Friday, March 31. Each year during Lent, the Knights (St. George Council 3928) offers fried fish dinners to the public at the Knights of Columbus Hall on South Union Street. As always, the Knights give a portion of proceeds from each dinner to local charities.
Stacey is doubly excited to invite the community to Fish Fry Friday on March 31 as proceeds will also benefit another group near and dear to the Hubbard family, the Guilford Volunteer Fire Department (GVFD).
“Our fire department is our extended family,” says Stacey.
At the time of Carl’s passing in 2012, he was a lieutenant for Eagle Hose Co. #2 and had been involved with GVFD for more than 25 years. A Guilford High School Class of 1991 graduate, “Carl was always a volunteer. He started as a teen and continued,” says Stacey.
Stacey and Carl both grew up in Guilford and first met as kindergarteners. The Hubbards’ extended firefighting family of volunteer and professional firefighters also did much to help the family during Carl’s sudden battle with cancer in the last year of his life. In addition, countless community members also showed their support.
The outpouring of assistance helped motivate Stacey to found Carl’s Crusaders and set up the first cycling team to join Smilow Cancer Hospital’s Closer to Free ride five years ago.
“I will always want to give back to Smilow,” says Stacey. “They made us feel at home in a hospital, which is a place where you don’t want to be. So we’ve just wanted to give back to them, and to help us keep remembering Carl and the kind of guy he was.”
That first year, Carl’s Crusaders raised $67,000. Since then, total has since grown to $350,000 raised for Smilow over four years’ time.
As always, Carl’s Crusaders annually gathers riders and representatives from every single fire company in town, from the paid department to the three downtown volunteer companies, in addition to dozens of others who want to get involved from all corners of the community. While some team members stay involved all year long, many start checking in and signing up as spring arrives.
Registration information is available now at www.rideclosertofree.org. Look under the “Top Teams” banner on the home page and click on Carl’s Crusaders.
“We currently have over 59 team members already signed up, and we had over 100 last year,” says Stacey, adding Carl’s Crusaders has consistently earned the distinction of being the among the top teams at the annual Closer to Free Ride.
Stacey keeps in touch with all team members by email during the year, keeping them motivated with challenges and even gathering the group at the holidays.
“After the day of the ride, the momentum is still very strong and everyone wants to sign on again,” says Stacey. “So it’s turned into not only riding and raising money for Smilow. We’ve done things throughout the winter to keep motivated; like a Toy Drive at Page’s [Hardware & Appliance Co.] for Yale-New Haven [Hospital] Children’s Toy Closet for the past couple of years. We’ve also adopted families through the hospital and bought them Christmas presents.”
This past December, Stacey organized a celebration dinner for Carl’s Crusaders, and 60 team members turned out.
She also organizes meet-and-greet training sessions as better weather arrives, “where we can all come together and get to know everybody, and do some training rides. And it is a ride; it’s not a race,” Stacey says.
Riders can choose to participate in 10-, 25-, 62.5-, or 100-mile scenic ride courses that channel through the Greater New Haven/shoreline area and end at a celebration site. Volunteers who are not riders are also needed to assist with the day and are encouraged to join Carl’s Crusaders. This year’s Closer to Free Ride is set for Sept. 9.
In the weeks leading up the ride, beginning with warmer days of late winter, small groups of Carl’s Crusaders—usually from 4 to 15 members, all of varying riding abilities—launch training rides from Guilford, many wearing the team’s purple shirts. The Hubbards’ son, Cameron, helped Stacey and a family cousin design the team’s emblem. The shirts have a familiar Maltese Cross on the front (the cross is the universal symbol and shape of a firefighter’s badge) with a wheel within to represent a bike wheel. The looped ribbon on the back stretches into a strip of road carrying a cyclist blazing a path, with the bike’s rear tire sending out a fan of flame to underscore Carl’s connection to fire service.
Cameron, who is following in his dad’s footsteps as a member of the Guilford Fire Department Cadet program, has also joined the Closer to Free Ride as a cyclist and is making his second ride in 2017, says Stacey with pride.
“He rode last year for the first time, when was 14, and he rode 25 miles. That’s a hard ride! You have to go up Sleeping Giant Hill,” says Stacey, who took on the 10-mile ride last year to be at the finish line to see Cameron cross. “He really is my rock. I couldn’t be more proud of him.”
Stacey also couldn’t be more proud of everyone who pitches in, from riders to volunteers to donors, to help Carl’s Crusaders continue to help Smilow Cancer Hospital through the Closer to Free Ride.
“I’ve met so many people through the cancer journey, and we’ve all been a comfort to each other,” says Stacey. “I just want to say how amazing my team is, and how supportive they are. I’m just the person that sends out the emails. They’re the ones that are amazing.”
To help support Carl’s Crusaders, attend the Knights of Columbus Council #3928 Fish Fry Friday on March 31 at the Knights of Columbus Hall on South Union Street. Dinner is served from 5 to 7:30 p.m. Tickets are sold at the door, no reservations required. The fish dinner includes fresh cut fries and homemade coleslaw. Alternative entrées to the fish are offered along with Rhode Island clam chowder, stuffed clams, and cocktail shrimp. Dessert as well as soda, bottled water’ and coffee are available; BYOB if preferred.