BostonBruins.com - When Natalie Westfall joined the Boston Bruins Foundation’s Pan-Mass Challenge Bike Team to ride 192 miles to help fight cancer, she could have never imagined what would come over her at the start of her journey.
“I cried for the first like 10 miles because I was completely overwhelmed how much support that this fundraiser has,” said Westfall, who was a first-time participant in the annual bike-a-thon that has raised nearly $500 million for cancer care and research through its 36 years. “It was completely overwhelming. It was wonderful.”
Every dollar raised by the riders goes directly to Dana-Farber Cancer Institute through the Jimmy Fund. The charity ride raises more money than any other single athletic fundraising event in the country. This year’s bike-a-thon took place on Aug. 1 and 2, with the usual route spanning from Sturbridge, Mass. down the Cape to Provincetown.
“I have a personal connection to cancer and I wanted to do something to help and it seemed like a great opportunity to do it,” said Westfall. “But I couldn’t believe the support, all of the people that were out at all hours of the morning there to support us, I just couldn’t even believe it.”
“People had their signs out that said, ‘I’m 7 because of you,’ ‘I’m 17 because of you.’ People were thanking us left and right after riding and everybody that thanked me, I thanked them right back for coming out. Cancer affects so many people.”
On the second day of the race, Westfall and the 30 other riders on the Boston Bruins Foundation PMC Team donned jerseys with the Spoked-B on the front. That drew out even more support from the endless crowd lining the route.
“As we were riding as a team, especially on Sunday in our team jerseys, and the people that were cheering for us just because we had the Bruins jerseys on, I felt like a celebrity,” laughed Westfall. “Saying, ‘Go Bruins!’ and all of the little kids and the high fives. It was just amazing.”
Cyclists making the two-day journey from Sturbridge to Provincetown are required to raise between at least $4,500 and $5,200.
The Pan-Mass Challenge is trying to reach its goal of raising half a billion dollars since it first began in 1980, with a fundraising goal of $45 million to help make that happen in 2015. As of Aug. 4, the total raised this year was just above $32 million. Donations can be made through Oct. 1.
The Boston Bruins Foundation’s team has already raised nearly $118,000. This year marked the 10th Anniversary of the Foundation's involvement in the athletic charity event.
To show your support, visit the main fundraising page and check out BostonBruins.com/foundation.
On Friday night, prior to the two-day ride, there was a welcome ceremony that hit home for Westfall and showed just how much the PMC has made an impact through the years.
“When we were watching the opening ceremonies on Friday night, someone was talking about a loved one who had Stage 4 lung cancer and how they survived and I started to cry because the whole reason I started to ride this year, was because my mother would have been 80 and she died in 1998 and she was diagnosed with Stage 4 lung cancer and she was given six months to live and there wasn’t anything they could for her,” said Westfall.
“And what that showed me, was the progress that was made from then to now. With somebody like that, it really used to be a death sentence and I hate to say it so bluntly, but that’s really the reality of it and now there’s hope for people.”
While Westfall was riding for the first time, other riders in the group like Johnny McCarron were veterans.
“Their support for me — it totally reinforces that what I’m doing, and what I’m spending my time…it’s all for the right reasons,” said McCarron, who made his 12th ride this year.
What makes the PMC special is the wide-spread support, from family members of the riders, the crowds along the route and from anyone affected by cancer.
“My wife — if you could put something in about how this is not a one-man team. It’s not just me. My wife allows me to be able to go out and do all this riding,” McCarron said. “I keep telling her, ‘This isn’t just me doing all this,’ even though people are patting me on the back. I’m always making sure that they know that she is just as important as I am for allowing me to go out there and do this.”
Throughout the ride, the Bruins’ Team also had their Pedal Partner to think about - three-year-old Cian Byrne, who has battled cancer.
“Having the focus of having Cian, that added so much to it,” said Westfall. “Having Cian as a pedal partner and meeting his mom, who I will know for years to come because of this, because I really feel like she’s a hero in my opinion. She’s so positive and appreciative of the work that we did and the attention.”
“It’s something that we’ll be in each other’s lives for years to come because it was all just so positive.”
The entire experience is something that keeps riders coming back year after year.
“If my body is able, I’ll be doing that for as long as they need me,” said McCarron. “Hopefully, we get a call soon enough saying, ‘You don’t have to book your first weekend in August anymore because we have a cure, so no need to worry about us.’”