Speaker inspires crowd at CT Challenge charity event

WESTPORT — A special guest speaker, in sharing his journey thwarting his cancer-imposed disabilities, proved an inspiration to this year’s CT Challenge.

The 15th annual CT Challenge took place this weekend, with 850 bicycle riders taking part in legs of races from 25 up to 100 miles on Saturday to raise money for Mission, a nonprofit focused on helping cancer survivors.

“The money we’ve raised over the last 15 years — close to $24 million — has been phenomenal and we wouldn’t have done it without our riders,” said Jeff Keith, CT Challenge president and cancer survivor.

On Friday night, the Fairfield County Hunt Club in Westport again played host to the event with an evening-time opening ceremony, which featured picnic food, games, and an appearance by author, inspirational speaker and cancer survivor Jake Olson.

Olson, who became blind due to retinal cancer at age 12, is well known for his participation as a member of the University of Southern California football team Trojans, serving as a long snapper.

Having lost one eye after his birth, he experienced eight separate reoccurrence of cancer before he was told, at age 12, that he would have to have his other eye removed in order to save his life.

“I was in shock and I was mad,” he told the crowd. “I didn’t know why this had to keep recurring. Why couldn’t it go away and stay away?”

But Olson made a decision to not let it deter him from living a fine life.

“I didn’t want blindness to rob me of my childhood or my future,” he said.

“At the end of the day it’s your choice,” Olson said. “It’s your choice if you want to overcome any adversity.”

The event was hosted by NBC correspondent Anne Thompson, who herself has had two bouts with cancer.

“I’ve done a lot of things in my career, but there is nothing I’m prouder of, that I have overcome it twice,” she said.

Cancer survivors, she said, are “the most incredible people to me.”

“The CT Challenge is a great fundraising opportunity to support people who are dealing with cancer and recovering from cancer,” said First Selectman Jim Marpe.

“I’m proud that Westport is able to serve as the start and end of the race,” he said, “and that year after year they bring in a great crowd for the Westport community.”