#WhyIPMC guest blog by Christos "Chris" Nikolis, 12-year rider, Heavy Hitter and PMC Kids Rides coordinator
I signed up for my first Pan Mass Challenge in 2009, with no idea what to expect. I didn’t own a road bike and hadn’t ridden one in 20 years. My running days were quickly getting past me, much faster than I ever actually ran, and I was ready for a new challenge. I didn’t know it then, but it was a life changing moment…so much more than just a long ride. I only wish it was 31 rides and not 11.
A giant door swung open and it was totally unexpected, which makes it even better. PMC has impacted me, my family, our town and so many others in a way that is hard to describe… but here goes.
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. Compassion. Love. Passion. Teamwork. Commitment (we figure it out…). Selflessness. Giving back. Sacrificing for others. Men and women, young and old, new bikes and old, fancy and plain, coming together for a cause bigger that any one of us. Every single person has a story to tell and every story matters. And not just the 7,000 riders, but the 4,000 volunteers and 1000s of donors and supporters and so on…it’s personal for all of us.
In year two, I started riding to Sturbridge from my home in Suffield, CT on the Friday, adding a wonderful 45 miles to the weekend. After that, it grew to riding 20 miles a day leading in for each PMC I had ridden, which all leads to something many of us feel: If I could ride every day for this unbelievable movement, I would sign up right away.
In 2012, after searching for a Kids Ride and finding none close to us, my wife Denise and I did what any couple with 3 kids under 5 would do…we started our own. Year one was filled with questions similar to what I had before my first August ride (“what the heck do I do now…?”). Surrounded by great people, we all learned quickly that Kids Rides operate with the same compassion, love (see above list) as the August ride. Year one’s goals of 50 riders and $5,000 turned into 86 riders and $11,600. The Suffield ride, the only one held in CT, has increased rider numbers and its donation every year, with 202 riders and $66,0000 in 2019, pushing us past $317,000 total.
As much as I love the August ride, the Kids Ride is even better in many ways. The response we have received from our riders, families, local business, schools and civic groups in Suffield has been overwhelming. Everybody helps and no one says no. Volunteers and sponsors are so generous with their time and donations, raffle items, in-kind services, food and drink, live music, all donated. We spend virtually nothing. And seeing those kids out there, rain (mostly, it seems) or shine, 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 at different times a pasta dinner, online auctions, a rock concert, sports equipment sale, purse bingo and a car wash. We collect used bikes that are refurbished by a friend and donated to kids that would not have them otherwise. We launched a can/bottle drive that has taken over our garage and 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, dine-in nights at local restaurants, started a dog walking business and it just keeps building. Kids Ride T-shirts all around town, kids and volunteers both, and PMC water bottles spotted at school events and youth sports games. 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 do not talk much about the August ride, but just the opposite for the Kids Ride. I am shameless in asking people about riding, donating, providing raffle prizes, food, services, music, any of it. If there is a way to increase our donation, Denise and I and our great committee are on it.
My motivation and personal connection to the cause is more than I would like…My grandfather, and the man I was named for, was lost to lung cancer when I was 13, with too many others lost since. My Mom is a 25-year breast cancer survivor and we hold stories of survival close to our hearts and minds. In 2015, it all went to a new level, when we lost our Dad to pancreatic cancer just 5 months after he was diagnosed and after a hell of a fight. The phone rings one day, the doctors found something, everything changes…it all moves so fast and we are all left behind trying to make sense of it all. That was a blow from which we are still recovering and it still makes no sense at all.
It provided extra motivation that I did not need, but it did allow me to see firsthand what DFCI is all about, as he was a patient there. Everyone we met there was so gracious and supportive, doing all they could to make the toughest time we’ve faced a little easier.
Riding PMC has allowed me to honor my Dad’s memory in a way that I could not without the ride. All I do is for him, thinking about him on training rides and along the way in August and by extension, loved ones lost by friends and strangers alike.
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, “who are you, where are you from, how long have you been riding…?” On a ride just after 2019 PMC, I saw a man with the 2019 jersey in a part of Suffield where I don’t generally encounter other riders. Turns out it was Doug Gray, one of only 4 riders that have ridden in all 40 PMCs and who had just been honored two weeks before at the 2019 PMC Opening Ceremonies. And he was leading two other younger riders up a short, but steep hill. He and others have set the standard and like many, I feel fortunate just to be part of all of this. And like Doug and others, I will ride as long as needed to beat this thing.
So, if you are thinking of riding, just sign up. Don’t think you can ride 192 miles or any of the other distances? You can, I promise. Concerned about raising enough money? You will get donations from people you never expected would help. If you are thinking about volunteering, do it. Worried that you won’t have time to train? We make time for the important things in life. If you haven’t yet donated to support a friend or this cause, write the check. If you are thinking about signing your kids up for a Kids Ride, don’t wait. If you have thought about starting a Kids Ride, just start it, here are 30 other rides that will help.…
Commit to any and all of it, you will figure it out like the rest of us. And you will save lives and improve the lives of patients and their families. You will help arm doctors, nurses, researchers and staff with what they need to win a once un-winnable fight (and we will win). And you will feel really, really good about yourself too.
You will be tired from the training, but emboldened by the challenge you have undertaken. You will keep coming back to all of it and thinking of new ways to help. You will wear PMC gear as proudly as anything you’ve ever worn. You will change your opinions on riding when it is too cold or too hot. And you will be back in again in year 2, 3 and beyond.
It’s all right there in front of you, don’t wait for the phone to ring.