Inspired to ride PMC again article page player in wide format.
By Eric Moskowitz
Globe Staff / August 2, 2009

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When Jothy Rosenberg was 16, he lost his right leg to osteogenic sarcoma. He learned to walk and even ski again, but when he was 19, the cancer returned in his lung, something his doctor told him no one had ever survived.

Rosenberg had two-fifths of his lungs removed and began a grueling course of chemotherapy, then an emerging treatment.

That was 1976.

Today Rosenberg is a 53-year-old father of three, a computer science PhD who has founded six technology companies, and an accomplished endurance athlete.

This weekend the Newton resident is completing his seventh Pan-Massachusetts Challenge, the annual two-day bike ride that raises money for the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute through the Jimmy Fund. About 5,000 riders are participating on one of seven routes - the original, 190-mile Sturbridge-to-Provincetown course and six shorter alternatives - and have raised a minimum of $1,000 to $4,200 each, depending on the route.

“The ride is going great,’’ said Rosenberg, during a phone interview yesterday at a Lakeville water stop.

“I was a little nervous this year, because [the weather in] June was so bad we lost at least five or six training rides, and for me I have one leg, so I have to work twice as hard.’’

Rosenberg, who has also swum across San Francisco Bay from Alcatraz 15 times for charity, is accustomed to providing what he calls “accidental inspiration’’ to fellow riders. Whenever he looks back, he said, he notices others quickening their pace after being passed by a one-legged cyclist.

But yesterday he offered encouragement off the course as well. At the water stop he met with Brian Pender, a 13-year-old cancer survivor and one of the official Pedal Partners for the ride, children treated at Dana-Farber who greet and inspire participants.

At 8, Brian was diagnosed with Ewing’s sarcoma and had a bone tumor that required surgery to remove part of his tibia. Although he has been cancer-free since late 2005, his leg remained frail and fragile. When a metal brace inside his leg broke last fall, Brian and his parents decided together to amputate the leg below his knee, his father, Damon, said. With a prosthetic device, Brian can run, ride his bike, and play soccer - he is participating in a summer recreational league in Amesbury, where he lives - for the first time in four years.

“It’s a lot easier than it was before,’’ Brian said. “I kind of forgot how much fun it was to play, because I couldn’t play for so long.’’

The Penders, who raised money on the North Shore for the Pan-Mass Challenge, said they were eager to give back to the Jimmy Fund and Dana-Farber, where Brian continues to receive regular checkups.

PMC organizers thought he would appreciate meeting Rosenberg, who has talked and written about the lack of role models and support he had as a young amputee in the early 1970s.

“I got him to smile,’’ Rosenberg said. “It sounds like he’s into sports. He’s very fortunate that he got a below-knee amputation, because a knee makes an enormous difference, so he’s going to do really well.’’

Brian sounded impressed by Rosenberg, who invented a snowshoe system for amputees, writes a blog called Who Says I Can’t?, and has a forthcoming book with the same title. “It’s pretty cool that he could do all that stuff with one leg,’’ Brian said.

This year’s PMC is the 30th, and the previous 29 raised nearly $240 million. Although the number of riders is down slightly from last year (5,241), their individual donors for the year to date (156,000 people) are setting a record pace, said Billy Starr, the founder and executive director, after touching down in Bourne at the halfway point.

“It’s going great,’’ said Starr, who has ridden in all 30. “God washed the road clean [Friday], it stopped raining today, and people are having a great day.’’