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Fairfield Sisters Face Heartfelt Connecticut Challenge After Cancer Loss

Fairfield's Erin Harrison French, left, and Alexis Harrison, right, will ride in the Connecticut Challenge to honor their cousin, Chris, who died in April. With them is Don Cook, Chris' father, and the former athletic director at Sacred Heart. Photo Credit: Contributed
Erin Harrison French, left, and her sister, Alexis, will ride in the Connecticut Challenge to honor their cousin, Chris Cook, who died in April after a battle with cancer. Photo Credit: Contributed
Chris Cook was a standout baseball player at Fairfield University. He died in April at the age of 48 after a battle with cancer. Photo Credit: Contributed

FAIRFIELD, Conn. – For the Harrison sisters of Fairfield, their rides in the Connecticut Challenge will be all about family.

Alexis Harrison will ride 50 miles, and Erin Harrison French will ride 25 miles in memory of their cousin, Chris Cook, who died at age 48 in April.

They will be riding in the fundraiser with the 25-member TEAM SHU, led by Sacred Heart University Athletic Director Bobby Valentine. The ride, which has options up to 185 miles, will be held July 25 and 26, and proceeds going to benefit cancer survivorship programs at the Southport-based Connecticut Challenge.

Cook was like a big brother to the sisters. Cook’s father, Don, who will also be riding in the Challenge, was the longtime athletic director at Sacred Heart. Don Harrison, the women’s father, was the school’s sports information director and manager of its news bureau. Their mother, Patti, is Don Cook’s sister. Both women graduated from Sacred Heart.

“We talked about doing something to honor Chris, and we heard that SHU had formed a team to honor him,’’ Alexis said. “We thought it would be a great thing for us to join. We’re aware how much the school rallied behind the Cook family when he was sick. It’s great to support the Challenge, which offers a supportive environment and is a loving place for cancer survivors.”

Alexis has participated in previous rides, but this will be the first Erin. “I go to spin class at my gym on a regular basis and love to ride, but I was motivated to take it to another level because of Chris. He was truly one-of-a-kind,’’ she said. “He loved life and his family. Since I can remember, Chris was always very active, whether it was biking, photography, travel or baseball. Alexis has been a huge support. She is an amazing example of endurance and strength both physically and mentally. I am proud to be doing this with her.”

Alexis said Cook, as the oldest cousin in the tight-knit family, was someone she and her sister looked up to. “He was smart, witty and fun to be around,’’ Alexis said. “He was an important part of our lives. He gave us brotherly advice, and he had a great sense of adventure. He was a big traveler. He’s someone I want to emulate. We’re fortunate that the Sacred Heart community has rallied for this cause.”

The Sacred Heart team set a fundraising goal of $10,000, and was about $2,000 short of the mark at the end of last week. Readers can support Alexis through her fundraising page, or Erin through her fundraising page,

Cook’s wife, Camilla, also plans to ride in the Challenge . He was also survived by daughter, Kirsten, 3.

The ride is part of the shared family experience of Chris’ battle with cancer, which includes grief, acceptance, memories and stories. A little more than three months after Chris’ death, the women and their extended family will share a bike journey that will include tears, hugs and love.

“I think it will be a day filled with feelings of hope and empowerment as much as it will be about survivorship,’’ Erin said. “I also expect it to be a very emotional day personally. Losing Chris has changed our family in ways I don’t think I could quite fathom when he was still with us, even when he was very sick. Being by his side in the hospital or visiting him at home in those final weeks and months was always very sacred.

"I learned so much about Chris during that time. He was always so brave, full of gratitude, and also very funny. He was cracking jokes from his bed at hospice two days before he passed away. He was truly amazing, and I miss him every day.”

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