LITCHFIELD COUNTY — The Pan-Mass Challenge is a Massachusetts-based bike-a-thon that “raises more money for charity than any other single athletic fundraising event in the country,” according to the event’s website.
Always held the first weekend in August, the PMC raises funds for the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, a center for adult and pediatric cancer treatment and research. The PMC offers 16 fully-supported routes, ranging from 25 to 211 miles, with various levels of cycling ability, fund-raising capacity and logistics.
“What an incredible weekend it was,” said Litchfield’s Barbara Janulis, who was taking part in her sixth PMC.
She completed a 200-mile, two-day route from Sturbridge in far western Massachusetts to Provincetown on the tip of Cape Cod.
“While PMC 2021 was different this year with COVID protocols in place, the energy and passion was as strong as ever with the PMC community coming together to change the future of cancer. It's hard to describe what it's like with fellow cyclists, volunteers, people cheering you on and local safety officers along the route, but if I had to use one word, it would be humanity.”
Janulis rode with Team Kinetic Karma.
“It’s an incredibly close-knit group of cyclists that was started 20 years ago by our captain, Dave LaFreniere who lives in Falmouth and lost his mother to cancer and who is a cancer survivor himself,” Janulis said. Parker Washburn, who lived in Watertown until he moved to Massachusetts this summer, was a student at the Taft School in Watertown when a friend, Alex Bamford, was diagnosed with Ewing's Sarcoma.
“His father, Mark Bamford, sent me an email inviting me to join him in the PanMass Challenge that summer on a team he was forming, named 'Team ABam.' I ride often during the summer months and this seemed like a great cause, so I agreed to join his team and ride to honor Alex Bamford and all those who fight cancer,” Washburn said.
Washburn said riders often ask friends and families for donations, sometimes based on miles covered but most often just a donation of any amount.
Bamford is still alive and doing well, said Washburn, “but the fight against cancer needs support from events like the PMC, so I continue to ride the event each summer.”
According to Washburn, the weather for the ride “was perfect, the participation great and the support phenomenal.”
“The PMC is unlike any other event I have participated in,” Washburn said. “Its sole purpose is to raise money for cancer research, and there is a certain camaraderie that is developed among this group of selfless riders and volunteers.”
Washburn said riders shared a common goal, which is the mission of PMC — to beat cancer.
“Each year, I am fortunate to meet new riders and share a few miles on the road with them, hear their stories and enjoy the company of others who want to beat cancer,” Washburn said.
Bruce Larson of New Milford is an avid bicycle rider with a “huge commitment to find a cure for cancer in my lifetime,” he said.
This was his 10th year taking part in the PMA and for him, it’s very personal.
“Our family has lost many friends and some family members,” Larson said. The suffering is unacceptable in our world today.”
Larson called this year’s ride an awesome experience.
“Riding with my sons and other family members was amazing,” Larson said.
“The comradeship on the ride with my Team Cyclosaurass makes a hard ride very worthwhile and exciting,” Larson said. “We also have many family members and friends who take a bus and meet us at the finish line in Bourne. Other groups of friends and family drive to water stops on the route to cheer us on.”
According to Washburn, it is very difficult put into words how “moving and emotional” the event is.
“Most of us are in tears several times as we pass the crowds that gather to thank us for riding and raising money for Dana–Farber,” Washburn said. “There are survivors who applaud us and pictures of loved ones who have lost the battle and some who have beaten cancer.”
Corey Potoniec began riding in the PMC in 2014 and since has not missed an event, riding with Team Courage, “a group of great co-workers that became friends and is now a part of my extended family.”
“Your first PMC weekend is the beginning of a lifelong initiation for most,” Potoniec said. “While the PMC includes a cycling event it's a fundraiser first and foremost. Every rider-raised dollar goes directly to the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute for cancer care or research. Cancer has impacted almost all of us directly, and everyone on the PMC is riding for a cure.”
Cheryl Ventola of Winsted participated in this year’s event in honor of her cousin, Sean Murphy, who died last year of cancer.
She said the event was enjoyable and moving.
“We were in a group of four and we met several other groups at the stops,” Ventola said. “All the riders were very nice and cheering each other on. The beautiful scenery and spending time riding with my cousin, Kelly Murphy, in memory of her brother Sean meant the most to me.”