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For Riders, The Pan-Mass Challenge Is All About Hope

PMC cyclists set out from the start in Sturbridge. (AP)
PMC cyclists set out from the start in Sturbridge. (AP)

Like an 8-year-old fed up with Cape traffic, I might be crying as I ride over the Bourne Bridge on Sunday.

That’s because I’ll be riding in the Pan-Mass Challenge, a bike ride that raises millions of dollars for cancer-fighting research. It’s an emotional event, filled with heartrending stories.

There’s Sheldon Rothman, an 82-year-old from Newton and the oldest PMC rider on a two-day route. He’s planning on riding from Wellesley to Provincetown. On a bike. At 82.

“When the going gets tough and the sun is beating down on you and you’re getting tired, you see some of the kids with the shaved heads, you see pictures,” Rothman said. “You know that they’ve been through cancer and the adrenaline really starts pumping in at that point. Nothing can stop you at that point, no matter how hot, no matter how tired you are.”

Rothman says he lost a brother and a cousin to cancer and that’s what keeps him going.

He says this year’s ride, his 10th, will be extra special.

“My riding partner, he can’t ride with me, he’s fighting colon cancer,” Rothman said, his voice halting. “It’s a wonderful cause and I’m just trying to do everything I can to help out.”

Everything, like training 12 months a year. In the winter, he goes to the gym and does spinning classes. Rothman says he logged over a thousand miles in the month of June.

I’ll be riding the Wellesley-to-Bourne-to-Provincetown route for my little brother, who graduated from Boston College this spring, is set to move to New York and, oh yeah, has already beat cancer three times. So what’s 163 miles on a bike?

It's my fourth PMC. By the end of the ride, everyone’s tired, sore and hoarse. But it’s all worth it.

Worth it, because the PMC is the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute’s single-largest donor, according to organizers, and it has raised over $300 million since its inception in 1980.

Worth it, because organizers hope to raise $34 million over two days of cycling.

Worth it, because, thanks to doctors and nurses at the Jimmy Fund, my brother will be waiting for me at the finish line.

This program aired on August 5, 2011. The audio for this program is not available.

Jeremy Bernfeld Producer
Jeremy Bernfeld was formerly a producer for WBUR.

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