WELLESLEY, Mass. — Cyclists and spectators smiled as David Ortiz took to the stage at Babson College Saturday morning. They were about to leave on a trip through that would take them, via 10 different routes, through 46 communities and 360 miles of infrastructure.
As he flashed a peace symbol, Ortiz said, “All I got to say is: Cancer, we’re coming to f— get you.”
This year, organizers of the 33rd annual Pan-Mass Challenge are trying to raise $36 million dollars, roughly $1 million higher than previous records, set in 2008 and 2011.
“We’re at about $22 million right now, and modestly ahead year-to-date,” said founder and executive director Billy Starr.
Starr stressed that for the sixth year in a row all money donated to cyclists and the event would go straight to the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute — a donation that makes up more than 60 percent of Dana-Farber’s annual unrestricted funding, Starr said.
Cyclists were on the road as early as 5:15 this morning in Sturbridge — joined by Massachusetts Senators John Kerry and Scott Brown, as well as retired U.S. Army General George W. Casey.
In Wellesley, riders like Jeff Letendre took off just after 7:00 a.m.
“This is one of the best cycling events in the country,” Letendre said. “It’s for a great cause, raises a tremendous amount of money, and we do a lot of good for a lot of people.”
The bike-a-thon comes from humble beginnings. In 1980, the trek had only 36 riders, stretching from Springfield to Provincetown, a 220-mile trip. In 1997, it added a second starting line near Boston to accomodate those unable to ride the full 190 miles from Sturbridge but still wanted to participate.
In its 33-year history, the program has raised more than $336 million for cancer research and treatment through the Jimmy Fund.
More than 5,000 cyclists took part in this year’s challenge, with another 3,000 volunteers to assist with operations.
“Whether you do or don’t have cancer in your family, when you see not only how it impacts the children, but their families and how meaningful it is, the modest gestures we all do that these people know they’re not in it alone.” Starr said. “And when you see an army of cyclists like this, that they represent $36 million, it’s pretty overwhelming.”