CUMBERLAND — At 56 years of age, Scott Miller, a small business owner, doesn’t have to take part in the Pan-Massachusetts Challenge – a grueling, two-day, 192-mile trek from Sturbridge to the tip of Cape Cod in Provincetown.
The Cumberland resident just chooses to, and he has dozens of explanations as to why he participates in the longest, most difficult version of the PMC.
“I ride with a woman named Janet; she’s from South Attleboro, and we’ll go over the Bourne Bridge and pick up the bike path that leads you down the canal,” he stated recently. “It’s about seven-eight miles between the bridges (Sagamore and Bourne), and we ride parallel to Route 6. On (Route) 3A, there are a lot of people out there sitting and applauding you, all of us. They have little parties, and they have hoses to spray water on you. It can get hot out there, but everyone goes crazy.
“One really fun story I have is from years ago; I was a little heavier then, but still in shape. I was riding up a big hill down in Sandwich, and I was approaching a mother and daughter, the little girl, maybe three years old, yelled, ‘Get going!’ The mom looked at her daughter and said, ‘Honey, you have to say, ‘Way to go!’ I broke up laughing!”
Again, he doesn’t have to do this but chooses to, and it’s because of all the friendships he’s made, the sometimes-hilarious, sometimes-frightful, tales he can recount upon completion, the satisfaction he feels upon raising money for the challenge’s contributions thousands have made to the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston.
When Miller takes to the starting line in Sturbridge at about 7 a.m. on Saturday, Aug. 3, he will attempt to complete the long, winding course through 46 cities and towns through the Bay State for the 14th time.
The 34th annual Challenge, the nation’s first charity bike-a-thon that raises more cash than any other athletic fund-raising event in the U.S., will field not just Miller and Pawtucket resident Allan Johnson but approximately 5,500 other cyclists for the collective goal of accumulating $38 million to support adult and pediatric patient care and cancer research not only at Dana-Farber, but to The Jimmy Fund.
PMC riders range in age from 13-88, and some are seasoned triathletes, while others are mere “weekend warriors” who train for this excursion alone. It’s existed since 1980, thanks to PMC founder, executive director and participant Billy Starr.
“It’s a powerful and emotional weekend for everyone involved,” he explained. “From the cyclists to the volunteers, staff and family and friends along the route, the PMC unified 10,000 people for one weekend to make a difference, and raise funds to eradicate cancer.”
Offered Miller: “Everyone knows somebody with cancer, and they all take it personally. One hundred percent of the money raised goes to Dana-Farber for cancer research. We all know it’s for a good cause, and that (doctors and researchers) are making great strides. My mom is a 40-year survivor of breast cancer. When I was five or six, I had a 13-year-old cousin who died of a brain tumor, back in 1962-63.
“With research the way it’s been, she may have survived it, so those are the kinds of strides they’re making,” he continued. “I had an uncle pass of colon cancer, and he was only 71 or 72. That was back in 1988, and – given the research – he could’ve survived. My friend’s wife passed away of a brain tumor seven-eight years ago, and she left behind two children. My grandmother dies of breast cancer at 56 back in the ‘40s.
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“Some people have heart disease linked to their families; unfortunately, cancer is in mine. I could say it’s self-serving, because look at me. I don’t have it, and neither do my sister, my cousins, my nieces, but they could … I just did the Multiple Sclerosis ride (two weeks ago); we went from Hasbro in Pawtucket, stopped at Wheaton College (in Norton) and turned around and rode back to Hasbro.
“We did 156 miles in two days. I just do it because I know a few people with MS, and I want to help, but it’ also a good training ride for the PMC. Cancer, MS and other (diseases), they’re curses that a lot of people have to go through, and I just want to help.”
Johnson, a 52-year-old field service technician, will cycle the 50-mile route – one of many PMC officials organize due to job, time and family commitments – from Wellesley to Gillette Stadium in Foxboro on Sunday, Aug. 4 “because that’s all I can afford,” he noted.
It will be his third Challenge bike-a-thon.
“The fee to do the 192-mile, two-day to Provincetown is $4,300; that’s how much you have to pledge to take part. For the 50-mile, it’s only $1,000, and I’ve already raised $950 … I married my wife, Teresa, 13 years ago, and the reason I do this is because her sister, Catherine Green, died of cancer Sept. 21, 2004. I remember that well, (as) it’s my father’s birthday.
“Cathy was only 48, and she left behind a daughter; she was only three,” he continued. “I wanted to do this because I wanted to help people with cancer but couldn’t afford the cost of treatments. I also like riding my bike. It keeps me in shape, but – more important – it’s helping others.
“Cathy was the maid of honor at our wedding (Oct. 6, 2001), and she already had cancer. When I met her, she was still walking and in good shape. As it progressed, two to three months later, and because of all the radiation, the cancer spread into her bones and she couldn’t walk anymore.”
When Johnson told Teresa about his idea of participating in the PMC, she squeezed him mightily. How proud was she?
“She was behind me 110 percent,” he chuckled. “She knew I could do it, maybe because I’ve always been athletic, and I thought I could, too. I used to play volleyball and golf, and I did a lot of (weight) lifting workouts.”
Cathy, however, isn’t the lone reason Johnson, a former outstanding sprinter for the Mansfield High track squad, continues to contribute.
“I do it in memory of my sister-in-law, but I’ve also had relatives pass away,” he said. “My uncle, Lewis Johnson, died of prostate cancer at about 60. My aunt, Ruth Millington, lived in Norton and passed of a cancer. My wife’s brother, Steve McDermott, had throat cancer, but he’s a survivor.”
When asked how he trains to complete even his 50-mile jaunt, he explained he had biked over 150 miles over the previous three weeks.
“My minimum training session was 25 miles in a day, but I’ve done 50 a couple of times,” he stated. “I bike a couple of times a week, and they range from 30-50, so – if I could get the sponsors and raise more money – I’d do the two-day event every year.”
When asked why, he immediately answered, “Because I love the crowds and their enthusiasm. The camaraderie is incredible, not just from your fellow riders but everyone. I’ve met so many people and become friends with them. I actually joined a (cycling) team, the Patriot Platelet Peddlers out of Foxboro; I did because I knew a couple of members, and it didn’t cost anything to join.
“It’s all part of the PMC,” he added. “I’m excited now as I’ve ever been; it’s all about the people who ride for the cause in trying to find a cure. It think it brings more awareness to the public, especially with all of the Patriots’ logos that go with it. The PMC has the Myra Kraft Initiative (New England Patriots’ Owner Robert Kraft’s wife succumbed to cancer a few years ago).
“I’m part of the Patriot Platelet Peddlers’ team, and I love it.”
Miller just exists to approach what he calls “The Hedges.”
“You’ll be riding into Brewster, and there will be a sign that says ‘Hedges, 2 Miles,’” he laughs.
This comes after he’s already cycled an opening day of about 110 miles, and spent the night at Bourne’s Massachusetts Maritime Academy; some stay in dorm rooms, others choose to prop up a tent on nearby grounds.
He noted that after a full breakfast to “fuel” up for Sunday’s trek, he and pal Janet take to their bikes and begin their last trek to P-Town.
“There are a lot of bushes, and – as you ride up – a ton of kids will scrunch down behind them. When you pass, they’ll run out and start screaming. It’s kind of like a weird ‘Hide & Seek.’ There will be 20 or 30 of them, and they come running up and cheer you on.
“Honestly, you get so excited,” he added. “They really help you emotionally. You give them high-fives, and they’re so spirited! It’s a real pick-me-up. It’s such a good time. You’ll have people watching you do that kind of stuff all along the way.
“There’s a guy in Rehoboth I’ve got to know very well. He has an old-fashioned home, and I’ll always yell out, ‘Clean bathrooms!’ Obviously, a lot of us want those. I joke with him all the time I’m going to put up a sign “Clean bathrooms!’ so a lot of folks will ask him (for usage).
“The thing is, he always provides water for me, and I’ll stop and chat. He’s a great guy. I can’t wait to see him this year.”
Miller, who already has raised about $3,400 of the $4,300 he needs, insists he’s not a biking fanatic, but just doing what he truly likes.
“I just enjoy it, getting from Point A to Point B in one piece,” he said. “A lot of people who do this know it’s for a great cause. I knew one guy who was overweight, he went about 225, and worked as a businessman. I talked him into doing this, and he slowly got into it.
“After one year of riding, he took off 30 pounds; he had been on medications for high blood pressure, but he’s been fine for a long time. He likes to get out and do this. Now he bikes about 10,000 miles a year … You know, there are people who’ll go out to a bar and order a beer, then another, and they’ll get all depressed, but – in the PMC – you meet a lot of people. You’re all in it for the same cause. The endorphins start to fly, and you know you’re doing something constructive to help people.
“It’s such a rush, and I always bump into someone I knew as a kid or teen. One time, I bumped into a friend of mine I do business with, and she’s from California. I see her every year, and we hug and talk for a little bit. In some ways, it’s like a reunion.”
Anyone wishing to make a donation to Miller may do so by visiting www.pmc.org ., or calling (800) WE-CYCLE. Checks may be made payable to PMC and sent to the same at 77 Fourth Ave., Needham, MA 02494.
Be sure to indicate the name of the cyclist you want to sponsor, as well as his or her town of residence and/or other pertinent information.