Pan Mass Challenge: Moving mountains
When Ewell Hopkins, the Island's Pan Mass Challenge (PMC) team leader, pledged to cycle 200 miles to benefit cancer research, he wrote to his former second grade Sunday school teacher asking for a donation. He was surprised when he received a check and letter from the 87-year-old former teacher telling of her double mastectomy 40 years ago, and of her 90-year old husband's more recent battle with the disease that seems to affect someone in almost every family. Mr. Hopkins said, "No one is out there for a Sunday stroll. Everyone is out there honoring someone."
The event is also about building community, raising awareness, being healthy and donating to a great cause. "The success of this event is due to the fact that all PMC riders are encouraged, actually required to take their fundraising commitment as seriously as their physical commitment to ride the event," said Billy Starr, founder and organizer of the PMC. Each rider is required to raise at least $4,000, all of which goes directly to The Jimmy Fund. He added, "When so many people put so much of their heart and soul into a common goal, an organization can move mountains."
With hopes that his Island team can find a corporate sponsor, Mr. Hopkins, along with nine other dedicated Vineyarders, will participate in the annual bike-a-thon whose goal it is to raise $34 million for The Jimmy Fund, an organization that supports cancer research and care at the Dana Farber Institute in Boston.
Mr. Hopkins said, "There isn't a five mile stretch where you don't have a sideline crowd cheering you on." While the PMCs have water and nutrition stops along the way, small communities volunteer their own time and money to form a rest stop of their own.
Mr. Hopkins described cycling over the Bourne Bridge at sunrise with so many other people as "a sea of humanity on wheels." He said, "Its interesting. Five thousand, five hundred riders and 2,600 volunteers, and everyone has a story. Either they themselves have had cancer, or they know someone who has had it." The ride is about honoring those who have been fighting the disease, and their friends and family who give support. It's about your second-grade Sunday school teacher, your aunt, your best friend's Mom. He added, "Its not my story or your story, its our story."
Kimberly Cartwright, Mr. Hopkins's wife, said, "My daughter's teacher has cancer, the girl at the bus stop has cancer, the principal has cancer. I think to see us doing something about it makes them feel like its not hopeless."
Mr. Hopkins completed the challenge last year after a close friend, who was also the best man at his wedding, was diagnosed with cancer. He said he lost 40 pounds training for the ride last year. "It doesn't matter what shape you're in. People start where they are, where they're comfortable."
Ray Sylvia, from Vineyard Haven, is riding with his son-in law, who asked to join him in the event last year. "We both have several people we know who either have cancer or have died from it," he said. He admits he was unaware of what commitment and dedication the event entailed. "Not knowing what I was getting into, I went ahead anyway and joined up. Last year was great. This year I hope will be even better. The people are fantastic, and the work that can be done with the funds raised is wonderful. There is no better event to be associated with."
Though every Vineyard rider has pledged to raise $4,000, the Island team has a team goal of $50,000. Mr. Hopkins and his wife have been writing letters asking for donations. They expect to have over 300 letters, and to spend more than $123 out of their own pockets for postage, sent out by the challenge date. "I'm sort of hung up about asking people for money. But to me, the emphasis is on helping," said Ms. Cartwright. "I feel like the PMC gives me something to do about cancer so that I'm not feeling hopeless and helpless. I think it gives others the same sense."
Team member Sherry Sidoti added a donation box to her business's web page, and has already received $2,000. Andrew Aliberti, owner of Summer Shades in Edgartown, decided to participate in the event after agreeing to hang a sign asking for PMC donations in the window of his shop. "I was also inspired by my own health," said Rex Jerrell, an Islander who was inspired by Mr. Hopkins and John Schilling to ride the event as an individual. "I don't know any other way to support health and wellness than to get out and do it. Ultimately, I am riding because I can."
He has been training three times a week, and hopes to get up to 100 miles per week before the event. "I want to be ready to ride this thing pain-free."
Ms. Cartwright said, "I try not to use the car at all. I ride to the grocery store, meetings, work, the library, everywhere. And I do it in all types of weather."
The event begins on Saturday, August 2, in Sturbridge, and ends in Provincetown the next day after taking riders through 46 towns and 200 miles. Mr. Hopkins explained, "It has a massive impact on the region."
To be a sponsor for Team Namaste, contact Ewell Hopkins or Kimberly Cartwright at 508-696-4672. To make an electronic gift for either individual riders or Team Namaste (# EH0063), go to pmc.org/egifts.
The event is presented by the Boston Red Sox Foundation and overstock.com.
Michelle Nepton is a contributing writer for The Times.