Seven year-round Vineyarders are riding the Pan Mass Challenge (PMC) this coming weekend, along with 20 to 30 Vineyard summer folks.
In its 38th year, the PMC has raised over $547 million for the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. Last year it raised $45 million, and this year organizers hope to raise $48 million for cancer research.
There are 14 different ride options, each with its own fundraising minimum and ride distance, that begin and end in various towns throughout the state. The rides range from a 25-miler from Wellesley to Foxborough with a $600 fundraising minimum to a two-day, 192-mile ride from Sturbridge to Provincetown with a minimum of $7,800.
The average cyclist trains for three months for the ride, solicits 40 sponsors, and raises more than $7,000.
As a longtime cyclist, Everett Bramhall, a resident of Concord and West Tisbury, will be pedaling his 17th PMC. “I was easily persuaded to take the challenge after becoming friends with PMC founder Billy Starr. To prepare, I ride about 1,250 miles beginning in April,” he said. Mr. Bramhall usually rides the two-day, 192-mile route from Sturbridge to Provincetown.
Tisbury Fire Chief John Schilling, 62, is riding his 26th PMC. He also rides the two-day, 192-mile route from Sturbridge to Provincetown. “I was doing some very amateur bike racing, entry-level stuff, when a fellow rider said, If you really want a good riding experience, you should try riding with these guys,” he said. “He introduced me to several of his friends who ride the PMC, and we have struck up a friendship.”
Mr. Schilling laughed when he mentioned the fundraising aspect of the ride. “I didn’t know anything about the PMC when I first got involved. I was completely naive, but once I learned about the real reason for the ride, the fight against cancer, I became committed,” he said.
Mr. Schilling is an inveterate cyclist who begins his riding days at the crack of dawn. “I try to ride year-round on-Island, weather and work permitting. I ride 25 to 35 miles most days, and longer, 50 to 60, on either Saturday or Sunday,” he said.
Mr. Schilling said that some of the of the riders he knows are able to raise money from business associates, and that some of the companies they work for will match the funds they raise.
“It is a conflict of interest as fire chief for me to solicit funds from the people I work with,” Mr. Schilling said. “I can’t put a donation jar on my desk, I have to rely on friends and family to meet my fundraising goals, and it takes time. I am proud that my fundraising is grassroots, mostly $50 and $100 donations. But one of the things that is so impressive about the PMC is that you have blue-collar people like myself and you have the people with the big corporations that are stepping up, and that is what makes this thing work as well as it does.
“There are over 6,000 people riding this weekend, and over 4,000 people volunteering to help. It is a force moving across the state, and everyone is there for the same purpose, to support cancer research. It is amazing energy. Cancer is so indiscriminate, whether you are poor or wealthy.”
Longtime cyclist and Island attorney Ron Rappaport, 68, of Chilmark is riding for the sixth time. “My law partner Jim Reynolds, who has ridden the PMC 20something times, sparked my interest. There is nothing more moving or inspirational … than seeing the road lined with people holding signs of thanks and yelling ‘thank you’ in honor of their loved ones. That’s a tremendous motivator.”
Oak Bluffs resident Scott Holmes, 56, will be riding his 12th PMC. “I have always done the 192-mile route, Sturbridge to Provincetown,” he said, “I ride on the Island for training. Sometimes I ride around the [whole] Island, 65 miles.
“While cancer has touched my family, all survived their diagnosis. I do, however, have a number of friends who have not been as fortunate. Since getting involved in the PMC, I have learned that the money raised by the PMC has saved lives, helped families cope with this illness, and advanced research to find a cure and improve treatment options for so many. As long as my body will allow me to do so, I will continue to ride for those who cannot … because I can. I plan to ride until my body says to stop.”
Every rider The Times talked to said the time spent on the bike was secondary to the emotional experience of contributing to a cause that, as Mr. Holmes said, “means so much to so many.”
“One experience that sticks with me is my first year at one of the second-day water stops … there was a very small boy standing in the middle of a parking lot holding a sign that said, ‘I am 5 years old because of you. Thank you PMC.’ He has been there every year since, same spot, same sign … but last year it said, ‘I am 16.’ Incredible, and brings a tear or two to my eye.”
For more information on the Pan Mass Challenge, visit pmc.org.