BostonBruins.com - The Boston Bruins Foundation Bike Team came into this weekend ready to ride, participating in the 34th Annual Pan-Mass Challenge, a two-day, 192-mile bike-a-thon that goes from Sturbridge to Bourne, MA, and then onward to Provincetown on the Cape Cod.
Although the bike routes are long and often grueling, it is well worth it for the cause.
The annual bike-a-thon is designed to raise money to support cancer research, and the Boston Bruins Foundation Bike Team has competed since 2006. All of the money raised at this event goes to the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute through its Jimmy Fund. It has become so successful that today it is the single largest contributor to the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and raises more money for charity than any other athletic fundraising event in the country.
The Bruins team consists of 30 riders who are all racing with a purpose in mind. The common bond of knowing someone who has struggled with cancer really unites the riders as they expressed how they were inspired to fight back against cancer. Their collective determination was remarkable.
Shawn Mullen has participated in the Pan-Mass Challenge for four years as a part of the Bruins team.
"The first year that I rode, I rode because a friend of mine was fighting breast cancer and I created the spin-a-thon because of her and my dad, who’s a survivor," said Mullen. "Then she unfortunately passed away between my first and second PMC and so I ride in her honor every year. Her name is Tina Vitale.”
“Three years ago, one of my lifelong friends lost his son to JMML, a rare form of leukemia,” added second year rider with the Bruins Foundation Andrew Brandt.
“He was three years old,” said Brandt. “I was at the funeral looking at the casket and it just struck me because my daughter was right around the same age. It just struck me as something’s not right. I got to do something. That’s why I got involved. Ten miles into the first PMC I knew I was going to do this until I died.”
“I ride in memory of my brother, Ken,” said rider Tom Hilse. “We lost him to brain cancer in 2005. I initially had gotten involved with it—he was still alive when I committed to doing the ride. I was going to do it in his honor. He ended up passing before my first ride. Since then, I’ve been riding in his memory.”
The PMC is a unique event because there are various routes one can take according to one’s skill level. The Bruins team is, of course, taking the hardest route from Sturbridge all the way to Provincetown. However, the riders on the Bruins team are able to pull through it because they all work together.
“Those two days there’s so much motivation and energy that you really can get through it,” smiled Mullen. “The last ten or fifteen miles on the second day is traditionally the hardest heading into Provincetown through the dunes with a headwind, always a headwind right at us is tough.”
“We stick together as a team, help each other out by riding close together, pulling each other along. It works out great.”
In addition to the challenging ride, the PMC always tries to improve its fundraising efforts. Last year, the bike-a-thon raised a record 37 million for the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. This year, the goal has increased to 38 million. Every year, the riders for the Boston Bruins Foundation do their part in contributing to the set goal.
This year, one of the most unique ways to raise money came from Andrew Brandt’s efforts.
“My wife and I own a ballet studio out in Groton, MA called Nashoba Valley Dance Academy,” said Brandt. "She always wants to get involved in the PMC. She likes it, but she doesn’t ride. So she figured she was going to do some fundraising, so I agreed with my eight year old daughter that if they raised $1,500 dollars, I would wear a tutu and a tiara for the PMC."
"She raised $2,600 pretty easily. Apparently, me being in a tutu is kind of funny to people,” laughed Brandt.
For all of these riders, the Pan-Mass Challenge has become an important event because of the people they have met and the cause they are fighting for.
“This is the way to go. This is awesome," said Tom Hilse, who joined the Bruins' riding team for the past two years, and has taken part in the challenge for seven years altogether. "They took really good care of us. It was the most fun I’ve ever had on a bike.”
Overall, the riders will keep riding until their goal is achieved.
“Every year, there’s somebody else that comes along that’s fighting or passed away,” said Mullen, of the often tragic reasons behind their motivation to keep riding.
“Every year, you just keep doing it. Cancer doesn’t stop - so we can’t stop.”
---Written by John Morton for BostonBruins.com