By Carlotta Mohamed
Jennifer Boucher isn’t an experienced cyclist, but this will be her 14th summer participating in the Pan Mass Challenge on Aug. 4-5 to help fund-raise for life-saving cancer research and treatment at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.
But instead of bike trekking her usual 200-mile route from Sturbridge to Provincetown in Massachusetts, Boucher, 46, of Whitestone, will be involved as a “virtual rider” in this year’s challenge due to a training injury and scheduling conflict.
“I knew I wasn’t going to be able to do the ride this year, but I still wanted to fund-raise and be actively involved, so I registered as a virtual rider which allows me to promote the Pan Mass Challenge and raise money for them,” said Boucher, who will be transporting riders to the event as well as assisting at rest stops along the route and any roadside emergencies.
The PMC is an annual Bike-a-thon– providing food, water stops, mechanical and medical assistance, luggage, transportation, and lodging– established by Billy Starr in 1980, the event’s executive director. He is a cyclist and fund-raiser.
Dana-Farber, based in Boston, Mass., provides adults and children with cancer the best treatment and developing cures through cutting-edge research. Over 6,300 cyclists from more than 40 states and 10 countries will gather in Massachusetts to participate in the PMC. Riders,including seasoned tri-athletes to weekend warriors range in age from 13 to 85. Many ride to honor a family member or friend lost to or being treated for cancer. More than 850 riders and volunteers are cancer survivors or current patients themselves, according to the PMC.
Boucher did her first ride in 2005 in honor of her best friend’s mother, who is a cancer survivor. Her rides are dedicated to all of the cancer survivors in her life — family, friends, and neighbors. To date, she has completed 13 PMCs — 11 active rides and two virtual rider support years.
The PMC caters to all levels of cycling ability, offering 12 routes varying in mileage and difficulty. The routes pass through 46 towns across the commonwealth, with starting lines in Sturbridge, Wellesley and Bourne. Cyclists are required to raise between $600 and $8,000 depending on the chosen route, though many riders far exceed the minimum requirement.
Boucher said virtual riders engaged in fund-raising are not committed to raise a significant amount. This year she hopes to raise at least $1,000.
“Over the last 14 years we (you and I) have personally raised just shy of $54,000 for the Pan Mass Challenge. My goal this year is to get that number over $55,000 so that next summer when I am back on my bike, we can hit the $60,000 mark,” she says in her personal plea shared via email and Facebook.
The PMC donates every rider-raised dollar directly to Dana-Farber through its fund-raising arm, the Jimmy Fund. It is the institute’s largest single contributor, raising more than 53 percent of the Jimmy Fund’s annual revenue. In 2017, the PMC gave a record gift of $51 million from hundreds of thousands of donors to Dana-Farber, bringing its 38-year contribution to a total of more than $598 million since its inception in 1980, according to the PMC.
With ribbons from her donors attached to her bike and helmet accompanying her on the ride, Boucher has trekked through 100-degree weather and pouring rain. “Biking almost 200 miles in two days is hard,” she said, describing it as “painful and “emotional.”
A mother of three children, Boucher had to juggle her schedule in different ways to ride during the weekends. Sometimes she would ride indoors on her stationery bike, while her kids watched a movie.
“I would love to do it until my body says I can’t do it, and just continue to volunteer,” said Boucher.
She has cycled with riders who have been a part of the PMC for 30, 40, and even 50 years. She has witnessed riders with missing limbs as a result of cancer, people who are in the middle of treatment, and people who usually ride with photographs of loved ones in remembrance, pushing through to make it to the finish line.
“I have been thanked by strangers along the street and at rest stops, who can share their survival stories only because of treatment they received at Dana-Farber as a direct result of PMC contributions,” said Boucher. “I have made friends, only to lose them to cancer before we could meet up again at the next ride.”
Boucher said she hopes to pass the torch on to her kids, and see them become involved in the challenge when they are older.
“It’s a very humble feeling of accomplishment,” said Boucher.
To make a donation visit Jennifer Boucher’s PMC profile at: profi
Reach reporter Carlotta Mohamed by e-mail at cmoha