Why I PMC - Kelly Sheehan

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Bill Alfano

Why I PMC - Kelly Sheehan

Guest Blog by Kelly Sheehan

After finding out that not one but two of our relatives were diagnosed with different forms of cancer in February of last year, my cousin and I decided we needed to do something.  By early March, Leiah and I committed to joining close to 6,000 fellow cyclists for the experience of a lifetime.  In August of 2014 we were riding in our first PMC and we were going big – 180+ miles in 2 days, from Sturbridge to Provincetown.   

Kelly and Leiah

For 4+ months I found myself stressing over things like reaching my $4,300 fundraising minimum, shipping my bike to/from Beantown, pedaling over the hills of western Mass when all I had to train on were my Florida bridges and what kind of weather we’d be faced with (Mother Nature and I are soooo NOT friends but we’ll get to that later).  Well, needless to say, once Friday night arrived on PMC weekend, everything changed.  The stress and anxiety over the silly things I couldn’t control went away and the excitement began! 

Upon arrival at the Sturbridge Host Hotel, we were greeted by the first of many wonderful volunteers (3,700 total throughout the weekend), we racked our bikes next to several hundred others and wandered our way into the registration area in one of the banquet room at the hotel.  Splitting to join our respective “M” and S” lines, we each handed our IDs to some volunteers and the ringing of the cow bells started.  “FIRST YEAR RIDER” was bellowed throughout the hall every time a newbie picked up their PMC jerseys and nametags and Leiah and I were two of them!  So cool! 

From there we purchased some PMC schwag, we put our name tags on our bikes (so strangers could cheer for us by name) and went over to the dinner tent behind the hotel to see what was going on there.  Needless to say, that’s where over a thousand (or 2) people were hanging out, enjoying some pretty yummy food and chatting about what the weekend would hold.  Things like “the decorations are already up in Cherry Hill”, “the pedal partner stop in Lakeville is incredible”, “there’s nothing like biking the bridge on Sunday morning”, “just wait for ‘Da Hedge’” were heard throughout the night and we were getting more and more excited by the minute! 

Now done with dinner (and cookies) it was time to head in to the auditorium for the opening ceremonies.  With photos scrolling along behind him on the big screen, Billy Starr (the mastermind behind the PMC) addressed the crowd by telling us all how the PMC started 35 years ago.  His simple idea which started with about 65 riders raising just under $20,000.00 (fact check: 36 riders, $10,200 in 1980) has turned into the single largest athletic fundraising event in the country!  In 2014 alone, 5,700 riders were planning to pedal across the state after raising a total of $41 million was raised!  That’s crazy!  

#PMC2014 Opening Ceremonies in Sturbridge

We heard from a woman named Susan who started as a medical volunteer 15 years prior and turned into a 2-day rider with her teenage daughter after her husband’s passing in 2000 as well as her daughter Abby who read aloud the essay she wrote for her college admission application detailing how important the PMC was for her family.  We stood and cheered for the “living proof” riders, 30 year PMC riders, 3 sisters who were riding together to after one was recently diagnosed with breast cancer, a 16 year old who was riding with his dad for the first time since losing his leg after being treated for osteosarcoma in 2006 and a doctor from the Dana Farber Cancer Institute who praised each and every PMC participant who had come together in the 35 year history of the event to raise over $415 million for cancer research!  Needless to say, when all was said and done Friday night, there wasn't a dry eye in the place!  

Susan Greene-Hellman

Abigial "Abby" Greene

Adams' sisters

So, now that the opening ceremonies were over and it was confirmed that the hot, humid, sunny weather I was hoping for was something I wouldn't see until I was heading back to Tampa, we were on our way back to the hotel to pretend that we were going to be able to get some sleep despite all the excitement.  Didn’t happen but oh well. 

Saturday morning arrived and with gear in hand, Leiah and I were officially en route to the starting line...and the rain had officially begun.  With extra layers of sleeves (not too hard to pick out the Floridian in the crowd), a rain vest, rain booties and my yellow lenses - we were ready to roll.  Standing shoulder to shoulder, handlebar to handlebar with thousands of other cyclists, we tip-toed under the starting line uprights (in the dark) and when we hit the road we were off...at 5:35...in the morning! 

From the first turn out of the gate to the last turn into Mass Maritime, what we saw was just incredible.  The whole atmosphere was amazing.  There were people cheering, screaming, clapping, dancing, playing drums, playing bagpipes, dressed up like lobsters, waiving pom-poms, holding signs that said "thank you" and "I'm a survivor because of you" everywhere - in the rain - starting at 5:30 in the morning - for 111 miles!  Let me tell ya, 111 miles of pedaling in what was afterwards referred to as the "worst weather in the history of the PMC" was a challenge but doing so without hyperventilating because you were basically crying every step of the way - that was the hard part!  

Da' Hedge

The first water stop was in Whitensville and it set the mood for the entire weekend.  People cheering you in, cyclists hanging out in a huge parking lot munching on all sorts of goodies, filling up their water bottles and of course hitting the potty before continuing on their way.  The next stop along the route was Franklin.  Franklin for most was just going to be another water stop party but for me, Franklin was my favorite stop of all.  There, after being welcomed in by strangers, I was greeted by some of my favorite people in the world!  Mom, dad and 3 of my closest friends (with their kids) were all there, standing in the rain, screaming at the top of their lungs when I turned the corner!  Sure having strangers cheer me along for the first 40 miles was fun but there's nothing like the lift you get from seeing family and amazing friends along the route!   

The next two stops for me were “unofficial” ones.  First was the Cherry Hill neighborhood in Wrentham where I came around the corner to not only read the "Cherry Hill Welcomes PMC Riders" banner hanging from one side of the street to the other, but I was also greeted by a few family members.  After some hugs, high fives and photo ops I was back on the road, riding through what I believe was the entire neighborhood standing in their driveways cheering us all on (bagpipers included), while in route to Attleboro where I made a quick stop for more hi’s and hugs from other family members and friends.  Talk about amazing support! 

Next up was the lunch stop in Dighton-Rehoboth, where everyone who biked Saturday - whether they started with me in Sturbridge or they started in Wellesley - met up for a bite to eat.  For me it was a quick re-fill but the atmosphere and excitement with thousands of my closest friends was amazing! 

Then there was Lakeville.  I figured I wouldn't actually need a refill or anything at that point but I was told that the Lakeville water stop was a very special one and it certainly didn't disappoint.  The Lakeville stop, known by some as the John Hancock stop, was where teams of riders met up with their "pedal partners".  The "pedal partners" are kids who are currently undergoing treatment for different forms of cancer through Dana Farber and having personally met an adorable little guy who was now in remission and was once a pedal partner himself, holding it together was not an easy task.  For about 1/4 of a mile stretch leading to the stop were photos - poster sized images - of these amazing little kids who have been through so much in their young lives.  Yup, let the hyperventilating begin!  Luckily for me - and for those around me who wanted to pass me as the tears rolling down my face were causing me to swerve a bit - I was just about ready to pull back onto the road when I ran (almost literally) into my mom and dad.  It was the perfect surprise boost I needed!  Next stop - the finish line at Mass Maritime! 

John Hancock PMC Pedal Partner tent at Lakeville waterstop

With swarms of people around every corner, I was getting closer and closer by the minute and becoming more and more excited as I watched the miles tick away on my computer – even though it was now officially pouring.  I hit the century mark chatting along with a women I had seen 97 miles prior about how entertaining it was to be pedaling with rain coming down, water being shot up your back and being shot in the face with water off the rear tire of the rider in front of you.  Through the now flooded roads leading to Bourne we kept pedaling along not knowing exactly where the finish was until we went around 2 little turns and it became pretty obvious.  With the GIANT red "Pan Mass Challenge - Closer by the Mile" sign overhead, we'd made it!  I unclipped, had my bracelet scanned, rolled on for about 10 feet and POOF, there were mom and dad to welcome me with open arms…and dry clothes!   

After a hot shower, some tasty food and greeting Leiah as she crossed the finish line we were off to din din and an early bedtime so we would be ready to do it all again on day 2! 

In bed at 9:00 and asleep by 9:01, Leiah and I slept like rocks and actually woke up feeling pretty good about of chances on surviving day 2.  Through the fog, a little light mist and nighttime darkness we climbed the Bourne Bridge being cheered on my strangers with cowbells (and a mascot of sorts), and we were on our way.  75+ miles to go between our starting point and the end of our day but we were both ready to fulfill our weekend goal with our fellow riders.  Along the route I chatted with a few girls from Boston, a guy from Wilmington Vermont, a gentleman from Newton (where dad grew up ironically enough) and riders from Lexington, Duxbury, Needham as well as a guy from Concord who told me how proud he was that this little Floridian was able to survive pedaling in the “beautiful” weather we’d been dealing with all weekend.    

For 76 miles we once again had fellow cyclists who enjoyed chatting along the course, cheering strangers on the side of the road at just about every turn and the occasional random bagpipers along a bike path in the middle of the woods to pump us up.  From Bourne to Provincetown with water stops in Barnstable (which was packed with people!), Brewster (where I made a quick pit stop) and Wellfleet (where I heard “Sweet Caroline” over the speakers before leaving), we pedaled along thinking about how amazing the event was and how fun it was going to be to celebrate at the finish line with the family once their ferry arrived.  After stopping to take a selfie in front of the “Welcome to Provincetown” sign, I met up with Leiah and we came around the bend to finish our adventure together.  We rolled through the uprights, unclipped, had our bracelets scanned, and were once again greeted by the entourage.  Talk about being beyond proud to be a part of the group of thousands of riders who came together in support of such an amazing cause! 

Overall, while I’m proud to say that Leiah and I both completed the 185+ mile trek (in the worst weather ever faced in the 35 year history of the PMC), I am far more proud of the fact that combined, she and I added almost $15,000 to the $41 million raised for the Dana Farber Cancer Institute in 2014!  This was such an incredible event and as one of the most amazing experiences of my life, it is absolutely something I will continue to be a part of for many, many years to come!