Ready, set and ride! The Pan-Mass Challenge officially began at the Babson College starting line this Saturday, with many passionate bikers ready to ride after intense training and fundraising for the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and its research.
Lori Vener Johnston is a Wellesley resident who is riding in the PMC as part of ‘Team Launch,” a group of nine women who have been riding together for the past 12 years.
According to Johnston, each of her teammates have deeply personal stories, connections and reasons for riding in the PMC, with three of the women being breast cancer survivors. Johnston added that Launch is unique in part because it is rare to have a team that is all women.
In her interview with Swellesley, Johnston shared that she initially became involved with the PMC to support one of her teammates who co-founded a Dana-Farber program which helps young mothers by providing resources outside of medical care. Johnston emphasized that overall, she and every member of Launch are riding to support people in cancer treatment and other survivors.
“We have all lost family members and friends. One of our teammates lost her son to a brain tumour, and she is riding to honour the care that he got. It starts with a simple reason, and then you start to ride and are amazed by the people you meet,” Johnston said. “From the doctors who work millions of hours, to the people who donate money. You don’t expect the stories you hear. Cancer sucks and this is just a way to make it better.”
A “pedal partner” is a child at Dana-Farber who is in treatment and will accompany teams and other PMC riders to give support. Johnston said that this year, Launch is riding with a pedal partner named Abigail, a five-year-old girl with Neuroblastoma who is now cancer-free.
“She is living proof that the money people before us raised, funded research that saved her life. That is why we ride,” Johnston said.
According to the PMC, there are 105 riders who are Wellesley residents participating in the Challenge. With every dollar of the fundraiser going directly to Dana-Farber cancer research and treatment, riders and volunteers from 43 states and 8 countries will participate in the PMC Ride Weekend festivities to show support.
Another Wellesley-based PMC team is “Hannah’s Bandanas,” led and started by Karen and Jeff Packman, after their daughter Hannah was diagnosed with Leukaemia at a young age and is now a cancer survivor.
Ben Smith is in his second year riding with Hannah’s Bandanas, and shared in his interview that he became involved with riding after his significant other Betsy Kessler’s spouse and big PMC rider, Andy, passed from Laryngeal cancer. Smith also said that his wife died in a hiking avalanche in 2018 while on a family vacation in New Hampshire.
“We consider ourselves the luckiest-unlucky people, Betsy and I, in that we have endured tragedy but at the same time connected with somebody with a similar life experience and similar values,” Smith said. “It’s been really life saving and really great.”
Smith said that his first year participating in the PMC was as a co-rider in the support van which gives cyclists aid if they need water, food or logistical help with their bikes; then last year, he signed up to ride.
Smith said that the community and care that he has found in the PMC community has been incredible, and that he and Betsy’s friend groups have generously helped their fundraising goals.
“It is a great way to fundraise, because you’re doing something healthy and supporting all of the people that have cancer, will have cancer and also trying to hopefully provide resources to do the research that is needed,” Smith said. “I would encourage everyone to get involved. It is a very community oriented way to do something supportive that is extremely worthwhile. It has been an honor and a pleasure to ride with my team, other riders and the volunteers along the way.”
The PMC has allowed riders to set up profiles about themselves and/or their bike teams to share their reasons for participating and so people can donate or sign up to be volunteers.
”If you asked me 12 years ago, I never ever would have thought I am riding 12 years later, and none of us have plans to stop riding any time soon,” Johnston said. “We feel so fortunate to support each other. We all believe in the cause, all have history and we really keep each other going.”
Here’s the PMC list of riders from Wellesley:
Anne Rickard Jackowitz
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