Hope and Inspiration: the Survivor Rose Tradition


Join us in Davis, Philly or Austin this year for a LIVESTRONG Challenge and honor someone you know in the fight against cancer. This fight is personal!

The same week Sally Reed finished her treatment for breast cancer in 1999, she started volunteering with the LIVESTRONG Foundation. “I was still bald,” Sally remembers. “I was on my road to recovery, and I wanted to give back.”

In 2001, Sally answered the phone when Mark Hayes called to ask if the Foundation gave roses to survivors during our annual Ride for the Roses event. He offered to donate roses, and an amazing tradition was born.

Over the years, the Ride for the Roses evolved into the Team LIVESTRONG Challenge series and expanded from one city to the current three in Davis, Philly and Austin. Since 2002, tens of thousands of survivors have received yellow roses as they finished each Challenge.

Long time LIVESTRONG Foundation supporter, volunteer and cancer survivor, Sally Reed.

Long time LIVESTRONG Foundation supporter, volunteer and cancer survivor, Sally Reed.

Sally remembers her first year of coordinating the finish line tradition in 2002. Everyone has to reach designated points on the course as the Challenge progresses for safety and logistical reasons. If you don’t reach those points in time, Support and Gear (SAG) vehicles will pick you up and drop you off closer to the finish line. During that Challenge there was a father and son who had lagged far behind everyone else. It was getting dark and the SAG vehicles approached to escort them off the course. The father refused. He said, “My son has fought one of the hardest battles of his life, and he’s not stopping till he crosses the finish line and gets his rose.” The SAG vehicles turned on their headlights to guide the way.

Unlike earlier in the day, with thousands of spectators at the finish line, there were only a handful of staff and volunteers left. “There were just a few of us. We turned up the music. When they got to the finish line and hugged, we all started clapping and crying,” Sally remembers. “That was when I realized how important it was to a survivor to get their yellow rose.”

Amazing stories are a constant, Sally says. She’s watched as people weakened by treatment, so weak she didn’t believe they could ride a bike, finished Challenges. And she’s been there beside those who couldn’t maintain their balance who rode stationary bikes at the finish line until they completed their goal.

Sally believes the finish line is a metaphor for the journey survivors have traveled with cancer, and crossing it is a life-affirming reminder of the obstacles they have overcome. The roses symbolize survivors’ future, health, hope, inspiration and strength. “The finish line is one of the most profound moments of your life,” Sally says.

If you’re participating at one of the Challenges this year and you’re a cancer survivor, we’ll see you at the finish line. Your rose is waiting for you.


  1. Scott Joy says:

    It’s a whole collection of emotions that words just can’t capture — every single time since my first of many yellow rose finish lines starting in 2004. What a treat to read how it all began and see awesome Sally’s picture!

  2. John Mavrakis says:

    I am not sure I have ever met anyone with the energy I found in Sally, and I cannot remember ever having a more enjoyable day than when I assisted her at the LiveStrong event! Thanks to my good friend Mark Hayes at Flowerbud.com, I had my life changed when i met Sally and came to appreciate everything she does for the race and for those with cancer. She is and always will be my hero!!

  3. Mary says:

    It is hard for me to put into words how it feels to get my rose.. but I will try..I am happy and thankful to be a Survivor and the rose is so sweet because it is a tangible symbol of my cancer journey and the celebration of being cancer free..It is a beautiful reward for the challenge of completing my ride and symbol also of hope as it blooms. Even after several years of challenges it still means the world to me..I am proud to be a survivor.. As I continue to participate, and having lost my husband to cancer, it is sometimes bittersweet because he is no longer here and I remember how emotional he was every time he crossed the line to get his rose..I know how much it meant for him to finish his race, he may have had to shorten the length of his ride while in treatment, but every year but his last he crossed the line..Awesome tradition that means the world to me!
    Great job and thanks for ALL you do!

  4. Amy says:

    This will be my third year at the Livestrong Philly Challenge. I remember how difficult it was for me to complete the 50 mile challenge that first year, and how (unexpected) emotions overcame me at the finish line. I worked hard for that rose and treasure that first challenge more than any other cycling event before or after. This year i plan to run the 10K and go for the 100 mile challenge. i am living STRONG as a 14 year survivor and LIVESTRONG has been an important part in improving my quality of life post-cancer. I will always support this wonderful organization!

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