by Andrew Garda
Nine Montclair residents will cycle up to 192 miles as part of the Pan-Mass Challenge in an effort to help raise money for cancer research and patient care at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston.
The nine riders, along with riders from across the world, will cycle through Massachusetts, Aug. 4-5, with hopes of raising over $52 million collectively, topping last year’s total of $51 million. Started in 1980, the challenge has raised $598 million for cancer research and care in its 38 years.
The Montclair riders — Prashant Bhatia, Ben Cope, Jason DeSalvo, Jennifer Hanawald, Andy Hart, Ryan Hill, Jason Levine, Manika Sood, Linda Sterling — will be joined on their team primarily by cyclists from New Jersey and Connecticut. While the overall challenge is not a casual endeavor, the PMC is open to all levels of cycling and fundraising ability, with 12 different routes of different in mileage and difficulty. The route goes through forty-six towns across the Commonwealth, with starting lines in Sturbridge, Wellesley and Bourne.
Each of the nine participants from Montclair have come to take part in the event through different ways, but they all ride with the same goal: to help raise money to find a cure for cancer, as well as help those who suffer from it to fight and win that battle.
This is Andy Hart’s fifth year doing the challenge, which he first heard about when skiing with the founder Billy Starr.
“So, in my first year, I ran into a college friend who I hadn’t seen in a number of years and we ended up riding a bunch of it together,” Hart said.
It grew from there.
“Second year we had probably eight people engaged from Connecticut and New Jersey, though mostly Connecticut,” he said. “So, we had eight people the second year, 22 the third year, the fourth year was 26 people and this year we have 35 people on our team.”
With more people, the possible total for donations of course grows bigger.
“Our target is to raise $300,000,” Hart said. “Last year we raised just under $200,000. So, there’s power in numbers.”
Hart said with so many people who have been touched by cancer either personally or with family members and close friends, it isn’t hard to get people involved and excited.
He speaks from experience.
“In 2012, my wife was diagnosed with appendiceal cancer, which is a pretty aggressive cancer,” Hart said on a phone call from Montana, where he spends his time when not in Montclair. “So, that was an easy call to join that effort to begin some fundraising for research and Dana-Farber because it seemed to be the highest impact fundraising effort for cancer.”
Linda Sterling has a similar story, first getting involved in 1988 when she had lived in Connecticut, and then riding off and on for years, taking a break to raise her kids before returning.
“Back then it was about 500 riders and we raised about 1 million,” she recalled about the early years on a recent phone call. “But it was still one of the biggest athletic fundraisers in the country.”
It still is, as Sterling said that it has grown to over 6,000 riders.
The ridership is diverse, with everyone from doctors and nurses from the hospital to cancer survivors — called “living proof” — riding the course and with stories to tell. Both Sterling and Hope agreed that was one of the best things about the ride.
“You get to hear so many people’s stories and it keeps everything in perspective no matter how tough the hills are or how long the distance, or whether you trained well or you haven’t trained at all, it’s incredibly moving,” Sterling said.
It’s what keeps so many people returning to ride year after year.
“And some of the stories are uplifting if people beat cancer, and some of them are just incredibly sad, as you hear stories of people’s parents or spouses or children who have passed away from cancer,” she added.
Sterling now adds to those stories as well.
“Last year was my first riding as a living proof rider, because I had breast cancer about a year and a half ago,” she explained. “So, to go back after having done it so many years and be a cancer survivor was incredibly moving and emotional and fulfilling.”
Whether the stories have an upbeat ending, like Sterling or Hart’s or a sad ending, every rider takes away the same thing from them according to Sterling.
“You realize we have a long way ahead of us still to find more cures.”
Once the PMC is done and the fundraising results are tallied, the organization will donate the money directly to Dana-Farber through its fundraising arm, the Jimmy Fund. As the institute’s largest single contributor, the PMC generates more than 53 percent of the Jimmy Fund’s annual revenue.
For those wishing to donate, or who just want information about the PMC, log onto www.pmc.org.