In a few days, my husband Chris and daughter Sarah will set aside the gentle appeal of speech. They have many stories to share, but for several hours, theirs will be the language of action, instead. This Sunday (August 5), they’ll put their feet, calves, quads, thighs, gluts, abs, spines, pecs, shoulders, arms, biceps, triceps, hands, lungs, hearts (okay, all their muscles) and minds to work in the annual Pan Mass Challenge bike ride. It’s their fourth year as a father-daughter team in this event.
It’s a case of deeds versus words. It’s putting your body and your spirit into gear, once a year, because you can. Riding for a cause. Making a difference. Remembering someone you love. Celebrating someone who survives. Honoring someone who currently lives with this challenge. Or marking a milestone in your own journey, too.
Changing the world, one mile, one life, one revolution, one ride at a time. It sounds dramatic, doesn’t it? Yet it’s true, and it’s possible for any of us.
All of Chris’s major bike rides support charitable causes. He already completed the Coast of Hope to raise funds for our family’s nonprofit foundation Bright Happy Power that works with children and families living with cancer and the ADA’s Tour de Cure to raise funds for diabetes research, an illness that impacts many of our friends, including several children and young adults here in Ipswich. He’s riding this weekend in the Pan Mass Challenge (his 7th year) to raise funds for cancer research through Dana Farber’s Jimmy Fund. He’s also riding later this season in the ALS ride to support research for an illness which affected fellow Rotarian Lou DeGeorge and which has recently changed the life of a peer’s 20-something son.
Even before Chris started riding, back in 2002, cycling teams rode in honor of our younger daughter Jessie, who was originally diagnoised with leukemia in 2001. The first team to ride as her partners were the Carver family and the North Shore Cylcopaths. She was their Pedal Partner. Within a few years, a local crew of Ipswich friends and North Shore colleagues formed a team to ride for Jessie …
There are also Kids PMC events that make it possible for children to ride, too. Jessie even participated in a Kids PMC in Topsfield while she was on treatment (see a PMC Kids video that features many children … you’ll find Jessie in a straw hat and blue dress).
The big PMC ride remains an annual family tradition. We still believe in its power. Chris and Sarah ride. I show up as SAG wagon (their own support vehicle) and cow bell chorus. I’m sure Jessie’s paying attention, and putting wind in their sails.
Many of our friends are survivors. Their stories are riveting; their experiences were difficult, but there’s a happy ending for lots of families, including Ipswich folks. We see some of them grow up and ride!
We surely know that the work of Dana Farber’s research programs (which is implemented in almost every cancer clinic and hospital around the world, by the way) gave us extra years with Jessie … providing alternative treatment regimens after she relapsed twice with leukemia. She had extra time among us: long enough for her to change many other people’s lives during the brief span of her own.
Make no mistake, pediatric cancer remains the leading “natural” (aka, disease-related) cause of death in children. This is a mortal illness for too many children and adults.
Yet research has made a major difference for many children; it has changed the course of many forms of diagnoses. This isn’t a hopeless cause; we are actually making headway.
Have we … I use the word “we” because our family and every other rider participating in the PMC surely feels invested in this effort … have we identified the causes and cures of every form of cancer? No. Have we narrowed down and improved the long-term survival chances for many children (and adults) diagnosed with varied forms of cancer? Yes. How many more lives can be saved and improved? Many. Have we promised a happy ending to every child or grown-up living with a form of this illness? No. Yet have the “odds” improved? Yes. Are there more survivors? Yes. Greater reasons for hope, decade by decade, year by year? Yes!
This is our family’s cause, for reasons that are obvious to anyone following along. Maybe it’s yours, too. Or maybe there’s something else that has become a personal challenge for you.
Regardless of what issue you care about, there’s something you can do. Volunteer. Walk. Ride. Run. Become a supporter. So many ways you can be part of the collective effort to change the course of events around specific problems.
Words are great. They’re my medium, a lot of the time. (You know I like them, because I use lots of them.) Language has tremendous power to affect people’s opinions or touch their feelings.
Yet actions? Deeds? These are the commitments that get work done.
Me? I sometimes walk for Childrens Hospital Boston (helps the hospital where Jessie was treated for 6 years). I volunteer at a water stop for the ADA’s local Tour de Cure ride (supports fundraising for diabetes) and I volunteer on the course for the Rotary 5k Run and Walk (fundraising for high school scholarships). Of course, I coordinate the Coast of Hope bike ride. Those are my athletic commitments, if you will. I’m more a behind-the-scenes volunteer as opposed to an event participant, but that’s part of what allows these events to succeed, too.
But really, this is also a reminder to choose your own cause, whatever it may be, and however you may decide to become involved. You are powerful. You have the potential to be a change-maker. You can create hope. And you’re not alone. In most cases, your time and talent is combined with the work of others. Together, your power is exponential. Your efforts make a difference. Really.
Do you hear the cowbells clanging? Ride, Chris and Sarah, ride!