The Story Behind Team AnnaLynn

Team AnnaLynn has been a staple of the Ride Community since it was formed in 2010. Their story is one of resilience and hope and the power of community. 14 years later, we’re taking a look back at how this team got started, and what’s next for the woman who inspired its creation.

Meet AnnaLynn Williams, Ph.D.

When you ask AnnaLynn Williams about Ride for Roswell, her passion is contagious. Her smile as she describes the energy of Ride Weekend is a reminder of why we come together each summer to fight for cancer cures.

The mission is personal for AnnaLynn. In 2008, she was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia. The news came shortly after she finished her undergraduate degree and had just started her master’s degree in epidemiology. She had moved back home to Buffalo, and Roswell Park was the natural choice as to where she would seek care. Immediately, her life changed.

“I was admitted the same day I was diagnosed,” said AnnaLynn. “I went through about a month of inpatient treatment where I was very lucky to achieve remission. Then we did about a year and a half of outpatient treatments before I unfortunately relapsed.”

That’s when she knew she would need a bone marrow transplant.

“I was very lucky. I had a donor in the registry. Her name is Jesse. She’s my guardian angel.”

She received her transplant in March of 2010.

“I’ll be forever grateful to Roswell Park and the physicians and nurses and everyone there who took such amazing care of me.”

That same year, she was even able to be a part of the Ride.

AnnaLynn Williams at Niagara Falls for Ride for Roswell.
AnnaLynn's 100-day party

AnnaLynn’s First Ride

The summer after AnnaLynn’s transplant, her family wanted to get involved and give back. They signed up for Ride for Roswell and formed a team. At the time, AnnaLynn wasn’t sure if she would be able ride, but, eventually, her doctors gave her the okay — so long as she took necessary precautions like wearing a mask.

“I was very, very weak though. So, I rode my bike for about a mile and then they put me in a little tow-behind trailer and my brother-in-law towed me the rest of the way. It was such an amazing day and it was so nice for my family to be there and be around all those people and see the positive energy and the hope.”

That incredible Ride Day feeling has kept her coming back each year, and growing Team AnnaLynn along the way.

“It’s so moving and inspiring. You walk in and you realize this is so much bigger than me. We’re all fighting for the same thing.”

AnnaLynn's parents at Ride for Roswell.
Group photo of Team AnnaLynn.

The Evolution of Team AnnaLynn

AnnaLynn’s mother Debbie is co-captain of the team, and AnnaLynn says in many ways Debbie leads the charge on organizing and fundraising.

“My mom and I are really close. My mom was a nurse for 35 years, so I think when I got sick, her instincts just took over and she jumped in. I was so thankful and lucky to have her as this kind of medical liaison and advocate,” said AnnaLynn. “Over time, with the shift from me needing less of her medical advocation, she’s turned her attention to research and patient-care advocation. She’s taken all of that energy and funneled it into supporting the organizations that helped support us when I was sick. Fundraising for Ride for Roswell is a huge, huge part of that.”

While family has been a core part of Team AnnaLynn, its roster includes friends, colleagues and more.

“You name it, we’ve recruited them to be part of Team AnnaLynn,” she laughed.

AnnaLynn has suggested changing the name many times over the years, since several members of the team are riding for someone they love who has fought this disease or is currently fighting.

What keeps this team motivated is knowing there is still work to be done for cancer patients everywhere.

Fundraising Guidance

In 2023 alone, Team AnnaLynn raised more than $17,000. They lean on methods like posting on Facebook and Instagram or sending out traditional emails or letters.

“I think you’ll be really surprised at how many people are willing to give and those $5, $10 donations add up.”

However, they also aren’t afraid to think out of the box a little with their fundraising ideas. For example, AnnaLynn’s husband Mark came up with the idea to opt out of sending Christmas cards this year, and instead send New Year’s cards once registration opened. On the card, they included a QR code that linked to their fundraising dashboard.

AnnaLynn credits their fundraising success largely to their loyal network of supporters, who were by her side both when she was sick and now as she works to help others facing cancer.

“I think it just speaks to this larger presence in the Buffalo community where we all do this. We all hold each other up and support each other and what’s important.”

Paying it Forward

Ride for Roswell isn’t the only way AnnaLynn is making a difference for cancer patients. She recently started a faculty position at the University of Rochester. As an epidemiologist, she is doing clinical cancer research that focuses on trying to understand and prevent different symptoms and side effects that patients may experience, even decades after they’ve received care.

“It’s important to me to help patients make it through their treatment as comfortably as possible, but then also go on to live as healthy of a life as possible. You know, the life that they should have if they never had cancer in the first place.”

She wants to have a direct impact and change care for patients, something she understands all too well from her own experiences with the disease.

On a personal note, she is looking forward to continuing to enjoy life and all the moments that come with it. With that same contagious smile, she chuckled and said of the things she’s looking most forward to, fundraising for the Ride is up there on the list.

AnnaLynn and her family at her PHD graduation.