I signed up for my first Pan Mass Challenge 9 years ago, not owning a road bike nor having ridden one in 20 years. I didn’t know it then, but it was a life changing moment. Looking back, I only wish I had started 20 years sooner.
As many do, I learned quickly that once you get a taste of PMC, you want more and then more after that. PMC operates the way the world should work every day. Love. Passion. Teamwork. Compassion. Selflessness. Giving back. Sacrificing for others. A coming together of men and women, young and old, new bikes and old bikes, fancy and plain, for a cause bigger that any one of us. Every single person out there has a story to tell and every story matters. And not just the 6,000 riders, but the 4,000 volunteers and 1000s of donors and supporters. It’s personal for all of us.
5 years ago, my wife Denise and I started our the Suffield PMC Kids Ride after realizing that there were none in CT or anywhere close to us and our 3 young kids. We had no idea what to expect in year one, but learned quickly that Kids Rides operates with same emotion we see every August. We raised $11,500 with 86 riders in year one and last year (#5), we hosted 230 riders and raised $46,000 (700 riders and $136,000 total in 5 years). We can’t wait for #6, this May 13.
As much as I love the August ride, the Kids Ride is just as special. The response we have received from our riders, families, local business and civic groups in Suffield has been overwhelming. Volunteers and sponsors are so generous with their time and donations. Raffle items, in-kind services, food and drink, live music, all of it donated. And seeing those kids out there, some that know why we ride and many that do not, is the best day of the year. With so much help, we have captured the PMC spirit and brought it to our wonderful hometown, with no intention of stopping any time soon. We’ve added a pasta dinner, and car washes. We launched a can/bottle drive that has raised thousands based on the suggestion of a then 4 year-old rider. On their own, kids have put on lemonade stands, bake sales, tag sales, held dine-in nights at local restaurants, started a dog walking business and it just keeps building. Notes from parents about the lessons their kids are learning from the Kids Ride and how much they appreciate being part of it, are frequent and always seem to come at just the right time.
I had lost my Grandfather to lung cancer when I was 13 and there have been too many other loved ones lost since. My Mom is a 25-year breast cancer survivor and we hold stories of survival close to our hearts. That’s what sent me toward PMC, working to end sadness and maintain hope. Then in 2015, our family took one on the chin, when we lost our Dad to pancreatic cancer just 5 months after he was diagnosed. He was the best man I will ever know. It was and remains a crushing blow, extra motivation that I did not need. But it has raised my family’s commitment to a new level and drives all that we do. It also allowed me to see firsthand what Dana-Farber Cancer Institute is all about, as he was a patient there. Everyone there is so wonderful and did all they could to make the toughest time we’ve faced as a family a little easier.
As I tell anyone that asks, I will ride as long as I can stand. And when I have to sit, I will volunteer. Along the way, I have recruited my sister Pam, my brother-in-law Patrick, my cousin Lou and others to join the ride. And my kids know that they are 7 and 9 years away from being able to come out there for what will be one of the proudest days of my life.
Like many important things in life, PMC is about people. You will meet no finer group of people than in the PMC world. I just about jump out of my shoes when I see someone wearing a PMC hat or shirt, wanting to meet them and find out where they are from and how long they’ve been riding.
One bike or one person can only do so much, but 6,000 PMC riders, all the Kids Rides, volunteers and supporters can change the whole world, putting millions of dollars in the hands of the doctors, nurses and researchers that are comforting families and working to beat this thing. Led by Billy Starr and his staff, that is what we do, as long as it might take. I am proud and humbled just to be part of it.
I know we are impacting the lives of real people that truly need the help. I only hope each of them knows how much they are impacting ours.