Local residents take on the Pan-Massachusetts Challenge

By Kevin Hotary - Staff Writer
Colchester-Marlborough - posted Mon., Aug. 8, 2011
Some of the thousands of bikers getting ready to start the Pan-Massachusetts Challenge. Photo by Metro Design. - Contributed Photo

Last weekend, Aug. 6 and 7, more than 5,000 bicyclists gathered in Massachusetts for the 32nd Annual Pan-Massachusetts Challenge, a charity bike-a-thon that, since its beginning in 1980, has raised more than $300 million through the Jimmy Fund for adult and pediatric cancer research at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston.

Started by Billy Starr as a way for him and a group of friends to raise money to fight a disease which has touched nearly everyone in some way, the PMC Challenge has grown to include bicyclists from eight different countries and 36 states, including a number from Connecticut.

Dan Welling, of Marlborough, learned of the event last year when he was vacationing on Cape Cod. A triathlete who has been running and biking for years, he will participate in the Timberman Half Ironman competition two weeks after the PMC. Welling said that he joked around with a couple of friends about doing the PMC Challenge, which offers several different routes ranging from one-day rides of 25 miles, to full two-day rides of up to 192 miles.

“Both of them thought it was a great idea, and the next thing, we were all signing up,” he said, adding that he was somewhat surprised by their level of desire to complete the event. While all of them are experienced bikers, one has never gone farther than 40 miles. In the PMC Challenge, they signed up to take the longest 192-mile route.

Having lost his mother in the last year, Welling is riding in the PMC Challenge in her memory, as well as for the many causes to which she contributed. He is also honoring other family members and patients – Weller is a gynecologist – who have suffered from some form of cancer.

“As a physician, I am constantly reminded of the need to find the cure for cancer, as my patients are met with the challenges of diagnosis and treatment every day,” he said.

Colchester resident Chris McGrath became involved in the PMC Challenge in 2006, when his close friend was diagnosed with stage three leukemia and received treatment at Dana-Farber.

“While still undergoing treatment, he decided that he wanted to ride in the PMC to show his gratitude,” said McGrath, who formed a team with his friend and his friend’s brother.

A former competitive biker who was introduced to the sport by his ailing friend, McGrath and his teammates also ride the longest, two-day Sturbridge to Provincetown route. His friend is now in remission, and the team – which has since grown to six members – continues to ride.

“The three of us fell in love with the PMC and have continued every year,” said McGrath, who mentions the spectacle of the event along with a “phenomenal level of organization,” as well as the fact that it is for a great cause, as main reasons why he returns year after year.

And while his friend now enjoys good health, there is, unfortunately, no shortage of cancer sufferers. Now, the team rides for his friend’s cousin, who has a treatable form of brain cancer, and a co-worker who was recently diagnosed with melanoma.

“My awareness of the extent of cancer has grown tremendously since participating in the PMC,” he said.

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