Ken Grey reads off the somber statistics as if it were a grocery list. According to Grey, there are more than 120 different types of brain tumors. About 65,000 people get diagnosed with a brain tumor every year. Over 600,000 people are living with a brain tumor in the U.S. right now. These are figures he’s memorized; he knows them all too well.
The Grey family started the Team Billy fundraiser in 2000 in honor of Billy Grey, who lost his battle with a brain tumor the following year just short of his thirteenth birthday. Since then, it has grown annually and helped raise awareness and money for brain tumor research in the U.S.
“On a local basis we raised just about $86,000 which includes almost 800 donors, so it’s been a big thing and we’ve met a lot of people we wouldn’t have normally met,” Grey said. The Team Billy event is an annual bike ride and walk that moved to the Greys’ hometown in Saratoga Springs, N.Y. in 2005.
After starting the fundraiser in Boston, the Grey family, which includes Keene State College sophomore lacrosse player Polly Grey, thought the move would allow for more people to participate in the event. Confirming their idea, the first ever Saratoga Springs Team Billy event hosted over 150 riders and walkers.
Seven years and a lot of great memories later, the Saratoga, N.Y. event is still something people look forward to.
“We always have a great turn out, every year the attendance grows and people say it’s one of the special events they put on their calendar every year, which means a lot,” Ken said.
Polly explained the alterations the family has made to the event. “We just started including the walk,” Polly said. “So first it started with a bike ride, then we added a ten-mile ride, a 15-mile and 20-mile bike ride. Then last year we had a three-mile walk. And that actually opened the door for more people to show up, like kids and older people, or anyone who couldn’t bike ride basically and that invited a lot more people,” Polly explained.
The event has undergone changes throughout the years, but the mission statement has always remained the same. The Teambilly.org website prominently displays that statement on its homepage: “To foster public support of a vision of a world where brain tumors no longer exist as a deadly and debilitating illness. To attain this vision by energizing the peers and community where Billy Grey lived, emulating his courage, spirit and love of life, no matter what the challenge and how high the bar is set.”
The more you learn about the event the more you realize just how committed the entire Grey family is to its success. Ken Grey is a chairman of the National Brain Tumor Society, the organization Team Billy fundraising efforts go towards.
Ken’s wife, Cherie also works year round for the event, while Polly helps gather sponsors and her older sister Mary designs the t-shirts. Sometimes, the Grey family admits, it can feel like a full-time job. But together they help make the event special for all the participants involved.
Last year, much to the Grey family’s delight, those participants included members of Polly’s Lacrosse team. “Last year I told them a little bit about it and to my surprise they all said they wanted to participate, because I didn’t think knowing how far I lived and everything, anyone would be interested,” Polly said. “So about 12 to 16 girls slept over and we woke up in the morning and did the ride together, and more girls had said they wanted to come this year, which means so much.”
Senior Nicole Curry said it was an easy decision. “We participated because we wanted to help out and we knew it meant a lot to Polly and her family,” Curry said. “We never knew her brother but being a teammate, we look out for our teammates, so a bunch of us wanted to participate. And those of us who couldn’t come gave donations and stuff so they were helping out a teammate.”
The team called it “an awesome experience” and apparently the event inspired them.
Every year the KSC Women’s Lacrosse team plays a game in the spring for a cause of their choice. In years past, they have played for breast cancer and this year they decided to play for the Team Billy organization. It’s too early to know when exactly the game will take place but for a Saturday home game they plan on raising awareness for their teammates organization. It will be called the Team Billy game.
The Team Billy fundraiser will also take place in the spring 2013, though no date has been set. Once again the Grey family is optimistic.
“The type of inspiration we receive with the money and events helps all of us involved with that research,” Ken said. “And we’re hoping that one day one of them helps us solve the puzzle and so for us it means everything, that people will take time out of their day to take time with something that’s so important to us, we definitely don’t forget that.”
Zach Winn can be contacted