Ready to Ride the Challenge

Published in the July 30, 2008 issue of The Stow Independent

By Jordana Bieze Foster

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Since the Pan Mass Challenge began in 1980, Stow resident Al Cote has spent his summers bringing in donations. Every year, he's made the trip to Sturbridge for the start of the two-day cycling event, first as a rider, then as a volunteer and most recently as a full-time PMC employee.

But on August 2, for the first time in more than a decade, the 70-year-old Cote won't be waving as the thousands of riders set off for Provincetown. He'll be back on his bike, riding right along with them.

“During those years when I was working for the PMC, I would go out to Sturbridge on Saturday morning when the riders were leaving, and it was very emotional for me to be standing in the parking lot watching all the others leave,” said Cote, who recently retired from his position as Director of Provisions and Finances for the PMC, although he remains a consultant. “This year I think I'll be probably just as emotional, but I'll be on my bike.”

Cote will be one of 10 Stow residents riding in the PMC this year. Some will be riding for the first time, while others have made the event an annual tradition for as many as 20 years. But Cote is the only one who was there at the beginning, one of the 36 riders in 1980 who made Billy Starr's fundraising idea a reality.

“We went more than 120 miles that first day, and that didn't include the second day of continuing on to Provincetown. Oh, it was brutal,” Cote recalled. “And bicycle riding wasn't what it is today. We were riding in cutoff jeans, and probably most of us had sneakers on. I'm not even sure if we had helmets, believe it or not.”

Almost three decades later, the PMC is expecting more than 5,500 cyclists—all of whom will be wearing helmets. Many will do the two-day ride from Sturbridge to Provincetown, which now is a 192-mile trip, but there are also three shorter two-day routes and four one-day routes (including a Wellesley-Wellesley loop of only 47 miles) for riders who lack the time or the endurance for a larger commitment.

Along with the ridership, the amount of money being raised for Dana-Farber has also grown exponentially. That first year, each rider was required to raise a minimum of $250, and the total contribution was just over $10,000. This year, 192-mile riders are required to raise at least $4000 apiece, and the total is expected to be more than $34 million.

One first-time rider will be Stow resident Marcia Melone, a second-generation breast cancer survivor who knows firsthand how the funds raised through the PMC can make a difference.

“It went very smoothly at Dana Farber,” said Melone, a golf professional now based at Stowaway Golf Course. “I was diagnosed in February of 2006, in June I had surgery and by the next year I was done with radiation and chemo. But if it wasn't for the research, it wouldn't have been so easy for me, so I'd like to give a little back.”

Melone became involved with the PMC at the urging of close friend Julie McCarthy, a former PMC volunteer who lost both of her parents to cancer. McCarthy, who was Melone's fifth grade teacher, now takes golf lessons from her former pupil. Together, they will tackle the two-day ride as the Irish Twist cycling team.

Although she's not a regular cyclist and has only been training this summer, Melone said the prospect of riding 192 miles is more exciting than intimidating.

“I used to do Relay for Life, so the length of it doesn't bother me because I know I'll get there by the end,” she said. “I feel like I can do anything if I can put my mind to it.”

For more information about the PMC or to make a donation, visit To donate on behalf of a particular rider, search for his or her profile by name or enter his or her eGiftID number.

Stow Riders and eGiftID numbers:

Susan Arapoff SA0087

Al Cote AC0008

Craig Fifield CF0079

Henry Fisher HF0003

Jeff Kimmelman JK0203

Marcia Melone MM0381

Terri Nord TN0028

Mary Beth Rogers MR0213

Chris Spear CS0010

Ruth Kennedy Sudduth RS0214

Copyright 2008 Jordana Foster – 24 Kirkland Dr, Stow, MA – Email: – Fax: (815) 346-5239