Way Back Wednesday: 35-year rider, Barry Kraft, will keep riding until it’s once again about the fun, rather than the cause

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Bill Alfano

Way Back Wednesday: 35-year rider, Barry Kraft, will keep riding until it’s once again about the fun, rather than the cause

Barry Kraft, 62, of Swampscott, has the rare distinction of being one of three people who have ridden in the Pan-Mass Challenge each of its 35 years.

A friend of PMC Founder and Executive Director, Billy Starr, since they met in kindergarten, Kraft signed on to ride in 1980 at the request of his old pal. 

“When Billy told me that he was starting a fundraising bike ride, I was happy to give to a charity, but, quite frankly, I was doing it because Billy persuaded me and I thought it would be fun,” Kraft says. “It turned out that it was more fun than expected, even though I completed the ride with help from behind from the headlights from the single support van, and there was no food left upon arrival!”

Over these past 35 years, Kraft says the PMC is as much a part of his life as childhood, summer camp and college. “I’ve made some great friends at the event and have been fortunate to get some of my long-time friends to participate in the ride.  Riding the event gives me a solid reason to be on the bike when it’s cool and overcast. It keeps me focused and in shape,” he says. “The PMC even has its own language. I speak PMC for 12 months a year.”

And while Kraft started in the PMC just for fun, he quickly learned of the importance of the cause.  His mother lost her life to cancer at the age of 68, and an uncle, aunt and cousin soon followed. In 1998, one of Kraft’s closest friends, Todd Miller, who had joined the PMC in 1981 as a Living Proof rider, a cancer survivor, and rode alongside Kraft and Starr in each PMC that followed, may have died of complications from the treatment for Hodgkin’s lymphoma that everyone thought had saved his life. 

From left to right: Barry Kraft, a 35-year PMC rider, and Todd Miller, a PMC veteran.

Fast forward to spring 2011 when Kraft found himself walking across the PMC Bridge, accompanying his 28-year-old son, Zak, to one of his first appointments as a cancer patient at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.  Kraft stopped on the PMC Bridge, which connects two buildings of the Institute, to show his family old photos of the PMC.  Among them was one long forgotten of Todd Miller holding Zak Kraft as a one-year-old baby. Zak was helping to send off the riders for the start of the 1983 PMC. 

The photo stopped them in their tracks. 

The photo displayed on the PMC Bridge at Dana-Farber. From left to right:  PMC Founder and Executive Director Billy Starr and the late Todd Miller, a PMC veteran, holding Zak Kraft, then one years old, during the 1983 PMC.

The Krafts had just received word that Zak had Hodgkin’s lymphoma, the same form of cancer for which Miller was treated in the 1980s. But Zak’s prognosis was that he had a more than 90 percent chance of surviving the cancer with no residual side effects. That was the difference made in cancer treatment over the 30-odd years Kraft had been riding in the PMC. 

Zak Kraft has gone on to recover his health, get married, and jump back into his formerly successful and productive life, just as expected. But the experience has left his father all too aware of the disease he’s spent the last 35 years raising money to fight. He is ever committed to the PMC.

“We always feel good when we can help others and make a difference. But we don’t always have the opportunity to see the results. The PMC is a vehicle that affords me the opportunity to see those results first hand”, says Kraft.   “We see survivors on the road, both as volunteers and riders and we know that our efforts have made a difference.   It was great feeling to hear Dr. Nadler tell us that Zak was going to be ok and we were extremely impressed by the care and support we received at the Dana Farber.  We’ve come a long way since 1980, but there is much more work to do.  I will be a life-long supporter of the PMC and look forward to doing my part in helping to save the lives of our family and friends who are diagnosed with cancer.”

Kraft’s goal: to once again ride in PMC for fun rather than for the cause. “I did the ride for fun that first year, and in the ensuing years, it became more for the cause,” Kraft says. “I’ll continue to ride until the year comes in which I am riding for the initial reason I rode…. for fun. I will continue to ride until we have a cure.  Then I will have come full circle.”

To register to ride in the 35th annual Pan-Mass Challenge, which is set for Aug. 2 and 3, or to support Barry Kraft or another PMC cyclist, visit www.pmc.org.  

Post courtesy of Allison at Teak Media + Communication.