Riding for Hope
By James T. Richardson (right)
Associate Director of Admissions
"ON YOUR LEFT" was spoken by more riders, more often, and with more passion than any other phrase the weekend of August 6 and 7.
In the true spirit of the Jesuit philosophy, more than 5,000 cyclists, 3,500 volunteers and thousands of supporters lining a 192-mile route from Sturbridge to Provincetown, Mass., came together as men and women for others; each with their own story, but all with the same goal: to beat cancer by participating in the 32nd annual Pan-Massachusetts Challenge (PMC).
Riding a bike has been my favorite outdoor activity since the age of 3. Going into the street for the first time was a defining event in my young life. My father took me down our gravel driveway to the smooth pavement ahead. I said, "OK, Daddy, take the training wheels off." After a brief test ride to make sure I would maintain my balance, Dad reluctantly fetched a wrench from the garage, removed the training wheels, and the rest was history. I was off to the races.
In 1980, when I was 10 years old, I participated in my first fundraising bike-a-thon. A group of about 50 riders from our church rode various routes around town to raise funds for a local charity. I was too young to go it alone, so Dad, always a good sport, came with me for the 10-mile ride to which we had committed. At the time I thought 10 miles felt like 1,000, but I was up to the challenge!
That same summer, another group of 36 riders was assembling north of us, in Springfield, Mass. They would come to be known as the inaugural Pan-Massachusetts Challenge riders; a group of men and women who, unbeknownst to them at the time, were creating something that would change the face of athletic fundraising forever. They rode 220 miles that weekend, raised more than $10,000, and donated all of it to the Jimmy Fund, which supports cancer research and care at Boston's world-renowned Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. Its founder, Billy Starr, had lost his uncle, cousin and mother to cancer, and he was committed to making a difference in the lives of others still suffering from it.
Since that first ride in 1980, the PMC has grown considerably. To date more than $300 million has been donated to the Jimmy Fund by PMC participants-making it the most successful single fundraising event in the United States. My inaugural ride was in 2003 when I decided to do it "just for fun." One of my sponsors was Holy Cross dad Gregg Irwin P08, 06, who, as he handed me a check, said, "If you do this again, I want to come along." In 2004 I told him I planned to ride again, and that he needed to tune up his bike. He rode with me then, and last fall asked if I wanted to go yet again.
Unfortunately, in 2010 cancer filled my life. It seemed at every turn I was being given news that friends, family members, neighbors and colleagues had been diagnosed with various forms of the disease. Some have thankfully won their personal battles, while others continue to struggle; sadly, a few close to me lost their fight. It was for all of these people in my life, and for all those I've never met, that I told Gregg I would ride again. This was the third time I've participated in the Pan-Massachusetts Challenge, and it was just as emotional and moving an event as it was in the past. This is the oldest, most successful, most efficient athletic fundraiser of its kind in the entire United States-and, in my opinion, the best of its kind. This year, there were riders from 34 states and six countries.
For those of us who ride the PMC, we know a cure will one day be discovered; it's simply a matter of time. I look forward to the day when I can say to other riders, "on yur left," and be out for a 192-mile ride just for fun.