Going the distance for a cause

Westfield resident Ashelyn Baran raises her arm during her Sept. 12 66-mile bike ride to raise funds for neurofibromatosis . (ASHELYN BARAN PHOTO)

By Isabel Marcheselli


WESTFIELD – Ever since she was 12 years-old, Ashelyn Baran has participated in an annual 66-mile bike ride to help raise funds to fight against neurofibromatosis (NF), a genetic disorder that runs in her family and that causes tumors to grow along the nervous system.

Now a sophomore studying physical therapy at the University of Hartford, Baran completed her latest ride, The Toast to the Cure NF Virtual Bike Ride, on Sept. 12. With the help of her friends, family and colleagues, she exceeded her fundraising goals and raised $1,001 dollars for Neurofibromatosis Northeast (NF Northeast). Alongside her father, a fellow rider, Baran started her round-trip ride at Shaker Farms Country Club and reached her destination 6 ½ hours later in Farmington, Connecticut.

They stopped briefly for a lunch of peanut butter and jelly and for selfies to post on Facebook for their supporters. This year’s ride felt very different to Baran because her supporters were there for her virtually, not physically.

“Usually we get a lot more support in person and for this ride there was a lot of support on Facebook, but there was no one there . . . so it was a lot of self-motivation,” she said.

Baran explained that this ride has fostered in her a sense of empowerment in the fight against NF on behalf of her family, despite her young age.

“I wasn’t old enough to pay for dinner, but I was old enough to ride,” she said of her early rides.

While training for this long ride might seem intimidating, Baran says that doing it with others makes all the difference.

“It’s a lot of work, but it’s fun because I’m with family and we do it all together,” she said, adding that she occasionally trains for this ride with her cousins who live near Boston. Before the ride, Baran put new pedals on her road bike and taped her handles with the light blue theme and slogan “Raise a toast for the cure.”

Her advice to prospective riders is that “working hard always gets you where you want. Find your support and keep going with it.”

Baran said she wasn’t sure how the ride would work this year with the cancellation of many events due to COVID-19.

“I feel excited and proud that we did it on our own. With the pandemic, we didn’t know if it was going to happen,” she said.

Baran is looking forward to doing a virtual run/walk for NF Northeast in the future. The mission of NF Northeast is to promote research, advocacy and awareness about NF. To find out more and donate, visit

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