Potomac: Biking 192 Miles for Cancer Research

Potomac: Biking 192 Miles for Cancer Research

Potomac resident completes Pan Mass Challenge.

During the first weekend of the month, in some of the hottest weather that the East Coast has experienced in recent memory, Potomac’s Christopher Deraleau cycled 192 miles to raise money for the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston. While Olympic athletes racked up medals this August, Deraleau raised nearly $5,000 and cycled across the Massachusetts as part of the Pan Mass Challenge (PMC), a 26-year-old bike-a-thon.


Christopher Deraleau participates in the Pan Mass Challenge to raise money for the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston.

“Every year, we are blown away by the commitment the riders and volunteers make to the PMC in the hopes of one day eradicating cancer.”

— Billy Starr, Founder and Executive Director, Pan Mass Challenge

“I biked 192 miles over 12 hours riding time and about 14 hours total including stops and lunches,” Deraleau said. “I initially decided to do the Pan-Mass because I grew up in Massachusetts and Connecticut and I have family still there. My grandmother is a three-time cancer survivor and her last treatment was at Dana-Farber. It’s a great cause in general. Dana-Farber has a lot of pull up there.”

Since starting in 1980, this event has raised approximately $500 million for Dana-Farber, according to its website, which also states that every “rider-earned” dollar goes toward the Jimmy Fund, for adult and pediatric patient care and cancer research. Altogether, this year’s 37th PMC set out to raise $46 million. So far, the event has raised about $36 million.

Fundraising began at the beginning of the year, when cyclists signed up for the event, and will go through October. Deraleau has surpassed his own initial goal, but he will continue to collect money for Dana-Farber’s Jimmy Fund through the fall.

“At this point, I've exceed my fundraising goal through the generous donations of family and friends,” Deraleau said. “That doesn't mean I've stopped trying to raise more. Every penny goes direct to the Jimmy Fund, and as such to cancer research and treatment via the Dana Farber Cancer Institute in Boston.”

The PMC designates 12 different bicycle routes that cyclists can choose from, ranging from 25 miles to 192 miles. Depending on the chosen route, cyclists either ride for one day or two days. Deraleau pursued the PMC’s hallmark and longest route, which went through 46 towns — starting in the eastern Massachusetts town of Sturbridge and ending in Provincetown, at the tip Cape Cod. Saturday and Sunday both started at 5:30 a.m. and it all finished by Sunday, Aug. 7 at 5 p.m.

“A lot of the ride is on two-lane rural state highways,” Deraleau said. “You get pretty close to Rhode Island at one point, but you never cross into it. As for finishing, there are no prizes, no podiums, no losers or winners in the PMC. It's not as much a race as it is a rolling tribute, to those who battle cancer, by those who are willing to push themselves to their own limits to support those fighters.”

There were 6,000 riders in this year’s PMC, hailing from 39 states plus the District of Columbia, as well as from six total countries, according to statistics that Deraleau received from Billy Starr, PMC founder and executive director.

As part of the Maryland faction, Deraleau rode with a team from Baltimore County called the Whistle Blowers, named after a London police whistle that the team members would blow during the ride for identification purposes.

“My father has volunteered for years for PMC, and set me up with the Whistle Blowers,” Deraleau said. “I met quite a few people I will stay in touch with. I didn't really know them personally prior to the challenge, but after spending two days riding across Massachusetts with them, we ended up as friends.”

Starr said that the type of friendships forged at this event is part of the reason that PMC is so special and so successful in the quest to raise life-saving funds for Dana-Farber.

“Every year, we are blown away by the commitment the riders and volunteers make to the PMC in the hopes of one day eradicating cancer,” Starr said. “New faces become familiar ones, strangers become family, and it’s this special and unique camaraderie that makes the PMC such an emotional and unforgettable experience year after year. Here’s to another year in the books, to reaching another fundraising milestone, and to another step taken toward helping Dana-Farber find a cure.”

While Deraleau may have been one of the new faces at this year’s PMC, this was not his first charity ride of considerable distance. He said there was nothing fancy about his training, though it was clearly effective when it came time to jump in the saddle on Aug. 6 and 7.

“After two years of training for other long distance charity rides, I've found my training entirely consists of just riding,” he said. “There's really no substitute for riding miles and spending time on your bike. I personally tried to get out and ride 50-100 miles every weekend with various organized cycling groups in the area from around April up until the PMC. Toss in a few evening rides of 20-30 miles by myself through Potomac, and that's about it.”

Deraleau said PMC was an incredible experience, and he hopes to be back in 2017.

“It’s an absolutely ginormous ride,” he said. “It’s a very surreal experience. There are people in all these towns you ride through, handing out water and many of them have benefitted from Dana-Farber. In one town, every resident was out celebrating us. The high school marching band was even out. It was also amazing to meet volunteers who were cancer survivors, as well as other riders. Every element of this experience was just amazing.”