Franklin is a stop in the PMC’s two-day journey from Sturbridge to Priovincetown. It’s where cyclists take a break to grab water and a bite to eat. It’s also a stop to express love for those lost to cancer.
FRANKLIN – Before hundreds of cyclists rolled into the Jefferson Elementary School, Kevin Lydon held back tears.
Lydon was a volunteer at Saturday’s water stop for cyclists participating in the annual Pan-Mass Challenge to raise money for cancer treatment and research.
Lydon, a Mansfield resident, choked up when he said his cancer returned last month. He had been in remission before a surgical oncologist told him his lymphoma is back. The diagnosis has not been confirmed, although test results are expected this week.
Everyone at the water stop – volunteers, those cheering on cyclists as they entered the school, and, of course, the riders – had a story to tell about how they’ve been touched by cancer. All expressed hope, and optimism, that doctors will one day find a cure.
Paul Vogel was the first rider to reach the school from the starting point in Sturbridge. The Pan-Mass Challenge has many routes, and the longest is a two-day trek of 192 miles from Sturbridge to Provincetown.
Vogel, 52, of Hampton, New Hampshire, quickly made his way to a volunteer tent to devour a peanut butter and jelly sandwich before he was off to Buzzards Bay. He and the other riders were to spend the night there, then get up early Sunday morning for the final leg to Provincetown.
Vogel lost his mother, Gertrude, to breast cancer in 2006, and he’s no stranger to the PMC. He’s completed the Sturbridge-to-Provincetown journey 10 of the past 11 years.
“My mom was awesome,” Vogel said. “She was an amazing mother and grandmother.”
Since its inception 39 years ago, the PMC has grown to become the single biggest athletic fundraising event in the country, according to the PMC website. It has funneled nearly $600 million to the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. This year’s goal is $52 million.
It’s the memory of loved ones lost to cancer that drives many supporters to line the Sturbridge-to-Provincetown route.
The memory of Sandy Crowe was well represented during Saturday’s ride.
Crowe succumbed to leukemia in 2001, and her husband, Rich Crowe, rode Saturday in memory of his late wife. A large team of family members, wearing orange shirts with the phrase “Team Sandy,” waited at the Jefferson School for Rich Crowe’s arrival.
The contingent included Crowe’s three children and four grandchildren. Crowe’s daughter, Jen McLaughlin, held a sign with her late mom’s picture on it, surrounded by the message, “Never, Never, Ever Give Up!”
“(My mom) was amazing, giving, loving and worked hard for the community (of Berlin, New Hampshire),” McLaughlin said.
Alice Mitchell backed up that loving testimonial. Mitchell described herself as Sandy Crowe’s best friend. They knew each other for 25 years.
“(Sandy) was a remarkable person. She was always there for the kids, and she volunteered everywhere,” Mitchell said.
It takes a lot of work to feed and hydrate riders on their way to Buzzards Bay, and Sally Selvidge of Uxbridge was in charge of the approximately 60 volunteers who manned tables full of fruit, bottled water and energy bars.
“This is pure enjoyment. It’s my favorite weekend of the year,” Selvidge said as she poured chocolate-covered candies into a bowl to give riders a quick energy boost. Nearly half of the volunteers came from the Selvidge clan, from 75-year-old Bob to 10-year-old Cole.
Lydon also had family members in the volunteer ranks, including his wife, Anne, and son, Patrick.
Lydon’s PMC connection began a decade ago, riding for “The Greene Team” in memory of his late friend, Steven Greene, who died of cancer.
With his focus on beating cancer, Lydon is working behind the scenes this year to help riders, such as Jay Mauro.
Mauro lost his mother to breast cancer, and this is his 11th straight year strapping on his bike helmet, huffing and puffing all the way from Sturbridge to Provincetown.
Mauro grew up in Marshfield, and makes sure he comes back every year from his home in Mill Valley, California, to enter the PMC. He does it for his late mother, and for himself.
Diagnosed with testicular cancer when he was 23, the 47-year-old Mauro proudly stated he’s a cancer survivor. And, he succinctly summed up why he rides the PMC.
“I love bikes, and I hate cancer,” Mauro said.
Henry Schwan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 508-626-3964 or follow him on Twitter @henrymetrowest.