Why I PMC - John Fearon - The ONE From Ireland

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Bill Alfano

Why I PMC - John Fearon - The ONE From Ireland

Why I PMC guest blog by John Fearon

Well, what a wonderful weekend. My first time to do the Pan-Mass Challenge and what an experience. By every measure it surpassed my expectations. The survivors, the organizers, the participants, the supporters – all play their part in making this a unique an unmissable event.

For my personal experience it’s hard to know where to start. Perhaps with my wandering into the PMC offices in Boston in September 2014 to inquire about the event. That was the first hint that this was something special. Alison, Justine and the rest of the staff could not have been more helpful as I inquired about the logistics of traveling from Ireland to participate. From that point forward it was as if I have been enveloped by a new extended family.

It had been a long time coming. I first heard about the event ten years previously when organizing a fund raising cycle for St. Patrick’s hospital in Dublin. An American participant in that event began to wax lyrical about the PMC and how terrific it was. I thought I must do it someday. In August 2015 someday eventually arrived. What better way to remember my Dad, Jim Fearon, an avid cyclist who was born in the USA and died from cancer 25 years ago in 1990.

I trained though a wet and cool Irish summer 

I signed up in January to do the original two day 111 mile plus 81 mile Sturbridge to Provincetown event. That’s 309 kilometres in total. I though raising the minimum funding of $4,500 would be difficult but was astonished by the generosity of friends and colleagues who has contributed over $5,000 with weeks and now have me near the ‘heavy hitter’ $7,200 target.

The adventure itself starts on a Friday afternoon with a transfer to Sturbridge from downtown Boston. The bikes are carefully loaded into a lorry while the participants boarded busses and from the first contact it is clear that this is a really well organized operation. If there is any excitement backstage it’s not apparent to participants for whom everything operates with seamless calm efficiency. 

The event at Sturbridge was the next surprise. A bell rung at registration to announce to the assembled masses that a first time entrant had arrived is also a reminder that this is an event that attracts back at least three quarters of those who participate. You just know it has to be special and the excitement is already starting to build. 

The marquee in which the meal is provided is a hive of activity and the camaraderie is palpable. No strangers here. Everyone is a friend. Everyone is welcome. Billy Starr’s speech later and the contribution from invited guests reduced many to tears – you are left in no doubt that you are taking part in a unique event that makes an enormous contribution to the lives of many. The 2015 target alone - $45 million for the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and its work in cancer research and treatment as a contribution to a half billion dollars raised since 1980 underlines its importance.  Billy gave the figures for 2015: 6,000 participants, 4,000 volunteers, from 41 US States and 8 countries. And hey, one from Ireland! Great to see the little country light up on the big screen.

You simply have to participate to appreciate how extraordinary the event is. There are so many details that add to the experience, it’s impossible to capture them all. Just imagine cycling a route with thousands of others but with cancer survivors lining the way to cheer on the riders and thank the cyclists for what they were doing – the emotional charge is extraordinary.  Especially as the survivors are the real heroes.

Supporters were out in the pre-dawn light and were at the roadside from start to finish to encourage the participants.  Many made a special effort and came equipped with bells or indeed a trumpet to sound a cheery note. Brass bands, and at one point a Scottish pipe band were also at the road’s edge. At the point that every cyclist dreads – just where the incline increases a little more and this hill seems just too steep – there were groups gathered to shout encouragement. It’s a hill – get over it - was the message on one placard.

It was a two day event and each day brought a very different experience.   The longer first day with the participants wearing their PMC 2015 jerseys had an air of concentration about it as individuals were determined to get their miles done. I’ll be eternally grateful to those who were at the roadside with hoses or bottles of water giving riders options to cool down in the heat of a Massachusetts summer’s day. Sunday, with many team jerseys in evidence, had a more relaxed feel to it. It used more bike lanes, there was much more interaction along the route and at the water stops and a building excitement as the finishing line approached. It was great to see teams reuniting along the way for a final massed run to the line.  Need to get more for Team Ireland! 

And the finish line – a perfect welcome - ‘Thanks for riding, well done, see you next year’.