Pumping their fists and waving at cheering supporters, thousands of cyclists streamed into Bourne today as they finished the first day of the 34th annual Pan-Massachusetts Challenge.
The two-day, 190-mile ride—this year by 5,506 cyclists—raises money for cancer research, and has quickly become the largest athletic fund-raiser in the country. If the group reaches its goal of $38 million this year as expected, it will push the PMC’s total of Jimmy Fund donations from the beginning to $413 million.
With sponsors and registration fees covering the event’s costs, all of the money raised by riders goes directly to research, organizers said.
“It’s easy to get people to donate when you give 100 percent to charity,” said PMC executive director and founder Billy Starr, who also rides in the event. “And it’s very motivating for my crew.”
After a 2012 ride beset by high temperatures, today’s overcast and relatively cool conditions were a relief to riders.
Second-year cyclist Steve Nawrocki said this year’s weather was a godsend.
“Last year was about 95 degrees and humid,” said Nawrocki, 38, of Medfield. “This ride was much better. I cut my time by about two hours.”
For Nawrocki, the most intense part of the day’s ride was passing a section of street lined with posters of young cancer patients.
“It definitely provides motivation,” he said. “You might ride for 10 miles through towns with not much going on, but then you get to this very emotional spot. You realize that what we’re doing isn’t much compared to what they’re going through.”
Volunteers at the PMC wear badges bearing their names and the number of years they’ve been involved. At the staging area in Bourne, wide-eyed rookie riders nudged each other to point out passing veterans with badges indicating 12, 17, and even 21 years of service.
“The long-term rider built this event,” Starr said. “We never spent a dime on advertising for riders. It was always, I bring someone, and next year that guy brings someone. That word of mouth gives us credibility.”
Organizers said that about 80 percent of riders are returning alumni, each of whom has ridden for an average of about eight years.
“The level of commitment is high, financially and physically,” Starr said. “It’s a remarkable community.”
The high number of returning volunteers and riders makes the annual event something of a reunion. Lisa Martel is one such familiar face, having volunteered for 17 years. Standing behind a vat of steaming chowder, ladle in hand, she greeted rider after rider by name.
“This means more to me than you could ever believe,” she said, doling out another cup of soup to an exhausted rider. “I look forward to this weekend all year.”
Martel’s mother died of cancer in 1985, and her brother subsequently rode in the PMC for 25 years. While she knows firsthand the deadly consequences of the disease, Martel said she is heartened by progress in research.
“Every year we get a little closer to the cure,” she said.