Fighting cancer, pedaling for hope

Mark Kent and Doug Gray.

EAST LONGMEADOW – On August 5, and as he has done each year for the past 37 years, Doug Gray of East Longmeadow will gear up and pedal his bicycle nearly 200 miles to raise money for cancer research. He’ll join thousands of other cyclists as they participate in the 38th annual Pan-Mass challenge, the largest athletic fundraising event in the nation. The annual bike-a-thon raises funds for the Dana Farber Cancer Institute in Boston and is its largest single contributor.

Gray is one of only three riders who have participated in the PMC every year since its inception in 1980, and he’s seen first-hand how the event has grown.

“[The PMC] mushroomed from 30 to 38 riders, to 75 to 150 and then exploded in numbers. I’ve had people pledging with me for years and what I like best is that not one dime of the money I raise from pledges goes to administrative costs,” said Gray. “There’s a $275 sign-up fee that goes toward administrative costs and police service, but the pledge money all goes to Dana Farmer. Last year we raised $47 million.”

Doug Gray.

This year’s goal is to raise $48 million, which will go to support patient care and cancer research.

“What motivated me at first was simply that I had gotten into cycling and was looking for a challenge,” Gray said. “I was a little scared to try the ride, but the little girl across the street from us, my daughter’s friend, had lost a leg to cancer and seeing that cancer had hit her house, I realized it could just have easily hit mine.”

For years Gray said he followed the original two-day route, the first day which started in Sturbridge and ended about 108 miles out at the Mass Maritime Academy in Bourne. The second day he would bike from Bourne to Provincetown. Afterwards, and for 29 years in a row, his wife would drive all the way to Provincetown to pick him up and take him home. There came a point, however, where the Provincetown Inn could no longer accommodate all of the participants, and over the years additional alternate routes were created, some with different distances and physical challenges. In recent years he has been biking an alternate route that begins in Sturbridge and ends at Babson College near Wellesley, a route which is much easier on his wife.

Doug Gray and Marsha Gray on tandem.

“You have to do it to really appreciate how amazing it is,” Gray said. “There are always so many people out there clapping and cheering for you. I’ve made friends over the years from all over the country, including some investment bankers who raise incredible sums of money.”

Gray has made the ride a family affair some years, doing the ride twice with his wife, twice with his son, and once with his daughter. On three occasions he rode with a family member on a tandem, once when his wife rode with him as she was losing a close friend to cancer. “It’s a very moving event,” he said.

“The whole key is to not stop riding,” said Gray, who will turn 70 this fall and still belongs to a serious sport riding club. Participants in the ride have to raise a certain minimum in pledges and Gray said it has been a bit harder now that he is retired, but he has no plans to stop. “I hope there won’t come a day that I have to retire for health reasons, but if I do, perhaps it will open a spot for a younger person,” he said.

Cindy Rindone and Doug Gray.

Other area residents participating in the PMC include: Fred Cuda (Longmeadow), Tim Mulhern (Longmeadow), Michael Paysnick (Longmeadow), Jonathon Jasak (Longmeadow), Bill Laplante (Longmeadow), Craig Tedeschi (Longmeadow), Tony Wood (Longmeadow), Jonathan Besse (Longmeadow), Jaclyn Laplante (Longmeadow), Trey Orr (Longmeadow), Arthur Mulhern (Longmeadow), Glenn Willetts (Longmeadow), Jeff Grodsky (Longmeadow), Scott Grodsky (Longmeadow), Gregory Valania (Longmeadow), Timothy Mckenna (Longmeadow), Jared Besse (Longmeadow), Jeff Lynch (Longmeadow), Ann Keiser (East Longmeadow), Steven Grande (East Longmeadow), Paul Cicco (East Longmeadow), Jack Keiser (East Longmeadow), Robert Lupacchino (East Longmeadow), Robert Zemba (East Longmeadow), Andrew Ede (East Longmeadow), Michael Cavanaugh (East Longmeadow), Matt Flanagan (East Longmeadow), Dale Varney (East Longmeadow), Ernie Oliver (East Longmeadow), Laurie Gillis-West (East Longmeadow).

– Article by Annie Gentile