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Riding Toward Change

When talking about charity bike events, it’s only natural to give a (huge) nod to the Pan-Mass Challenge (PMC). Since its founding in 1980, the PMC has raised more money for charity than any other single charity athletic event in the U.S., benefiting the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. Cancer is unfortunately something that almost everyone can relate to, something that has touched peoples’ lives in some way. “I designed the PMC to be an inspirational, as well as challenging, event. Whether you’ve battled cancer yourself or ride in honor of a loved one, it’s our shared experiences that bring us together with a common goal of making a difference,” says PMC founder and executive director Billy Starr. “The main goal of the PMC is to fund life-saving cancer research and treatment at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. Over the last 40 years, we’ve contributed more than $717 million to do just that.”

The PMC, presented by the Red Sox Foundation, runs through 47 towns across Massachusetts, encompassing 12 separate routes ranging from 25 to 192 miles. From beginners to professional athletes, the PMC caters to every level of rider and even has implemented the PMC Winter Cycle—an indoor spin event at Fenway Park—as well as a number of other short bike-a-thons for children to participate in, known as PMC Kids Rides. The PMC has become the largest single contributor to Dana-Farber; in 2019, the PMC’s donation was a record-breaking $63 million dollars, making it the largest financial gift in the institute’s history. The list of accomplishments goes on, masterfully demonstrating just how impactful an event like this can be; the PMC remains the shining example that charity athletic events strive to replicate, and we are lucky enough that the event calls Massachusetts home. 

“I was already familiar with cycling on Cape Cod, specifically in Provincetown,” explains Starr. “In 1980, I rallied a group of 35 friends for what would be the first PMC; it was an obvious choice to end our cross-state ride in P-town. My instincts then have been confirmed by more than 40 years of ‘seeing the world’—our natural resources in Massachusetts, and Cape Cod in particular, stand up to anything else out there.”

The Cape has become an integral element of the PMC, and both riders and volunteers enjoy the singular camaraderie that comes with pedaling over the Bourne Bridge and finally seeing that iconic “Cape Cod” emblazoned in the hedges or cresting a hill in Wellfleet and seeing the sparkling national seashore span out ahead. Visitors to this special region know that feeling intimately—it’s iconic; sharing it with others as everyone fights together, laying their hearts (and legs) on the line and sweating for a cause…it is an indescribable type of high—one that can only be accomplished with the Cape as the backdrop. “It just wouldn’t be the same anywhere else,” says Starr.

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