LEAVE IT TO LYDIA: The Pan Mass Challenge

PMC 2
Photo by Lydia on Academy Drive, the town road leading up to Mass Maritime Academy.

On Friday afternoon, the riders and their bikes have suited up. They have their shirts and IDs, their water bottles, and their luggage. Their bikes are tagged and in the rack.  Every family member has a camera in hand. Water bottles fill the parking lot and backpacks. It is time for the Pan Mass Challenge.

The crowd is festive at Babson College, in a lovely tree shaded lot at the back of the Wellesley campus. Hugs are frequent as riders see their fellow riders for the first time in 364 days. Food has been donated and prepared by volunteers. Fruit, salads, pizza, burgers, cookies. Buckets of ice are filled with water, soda and Gatorade. Serious riders talk to the tech people, and everyone looks at the shirts and hats. Volunteers in blue shirts accept thanks from the riders and their families.

You could call it a party but for the seriousness of the mission–fund the care and research at Dana Farber until a cure is found for cancer.

Registration goes smoothly, thanks to the amazing, focused interns who have finely tuned the organization’s huge database. At the desk, cow bells ring to celebrate first-time riders, applauding their courage and commitment.

I have never ridden in the PMC, but, for the third year in a row, I am here to volunteer my time and cheer on the riders and their supporters. A work colleague rode in memory of my daughter two weeks after her death in 2013. Volunteering that year was painful and yet hopeful. It was something that I could do while still numb. I have been hooked ever since.

On Saturday afternoon and evening, at the Mass Maritime Academy in Bourne, signs, photographs of patients, and cowbells are everywhere. Four-wheeled vehicles crawl along, behind or beside the bicyclists, cheering the riders as they pedal this leg of the route. We volunteers make the two-mile walk from the parking area to the check-in site, and then, it’s on to the Big Tent.

The breeze from the Canal feels good.  Under the tent is enough food for the entire Yankee Division if they are here. And some may be–a number of veterans are riding, some with prostheses.  Baked potatoes with an assortment of toppings, pizza, veggie burgers, salad, brownies, beer, ice cream, Dunkin Donuts, burgers and dogs, and did I say beer?

The name of the game is carb intake. It has been a hot and humid day, and, despite the dark, threatening clouds gathering over the Canal, everyone is happy. Smiles abound. Riders head for the trailers for showers and dry clothes, and then it’s time for food. Some unpack their tents and grab a nap first.  The noise is.joyful–greetings, laughter, cell phones ringing, and rousing music from the bands who take turns on the stage.

As a retired Girl Scout cookie mother, I am working Site Beautification (aka clean-up detail).  And it is fabulous. I could do it with my eyes closed, but the friendship and joy that pervade here must be seen to be believed. Gloved hands bag every scrap of food, empty water bottle, and paper plate. To watch 5,000 people eat and celebrate their day’s work is a stunning privilege.

The riders thank us.  And I think about what they have done themselves.  They just pedaled up to 111 miles if they started in Sturbridge. They want to cure a dozen different forms of cancer, so that little boys don’t lose their mommies when they are four years old.

It is 6 p.m. and time for one of the highlights of the day. It’s called Living Proof. I am proud to stand with other cancer survivors, in our orange shirts, for a group photo and a glass of champagne. For some reason, it hits me, and the tears fall.  My daughter should be here, but she is not, so I volunteer and sweat in her stead, praying for other patients and their families.  This is a community of love.

FEATURE PHOTO CREDIT:  The Boston Globe, Sunrise in Sturbridge

BOLLI Matters Copy Editor and Writer, Lydia Bogar
BOLLI Matters Writer, Lydia Bogar

Former English teacher and health care professional Lydia Bogar joined BOLLI in the spring of 2016 after returning home from a stint in South Carolina where she dipped into another OLLI program.  “It’s good to be here!” she exclaims.  (And it’s good to have her.)