Pan-Mass riders roll for others 

September 6, 2023

For more than 40 years, cyclists have joined together for the Pan-Mass Challenge and — so far — have raised nearly a billion dollars for cancer treatment and research. Concordians are front and center as Pan-Mass Challenge riders, donors and volunteers support the Boston-based Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. 

“It’s the best expression of humanity that I’ve ever experienced,” said Seth van der Swaagh, who completed his second two-day ride this August. “All of it together just makes such an amazing expression of support and camaraderie for this thing that’s impacted all of us on some level.” 

Thousands of volunteers turn out. People line the routes, cheering riders on. Corporate sponsors cover expenses. 

On August 5 and 6, around 6,800 riders took part in one of the 16 one- and two-day routes, covering between 25 and 211 miles. Each rider has a personal reason for being part of the bike-a-thon, which raises more money for charity than any other single athletic event in the country. 

“Very few people haven’t been touched by cancer,” said rider Mary Anne Jasinski. “You do feel very much part of this collective effort.” 

Jasinski is a two-time cancer survivor. She rode her first Pan-Mass this year for her sister, who was just diagnosed with breast cancer. 

Her brother-in-law, Phil Lotane, did the PMC several times, but had to take a year off when he was diagnosed with Stage 3 colon cancer. He rode this year. 

Marlo Nolan’s parents died of cancer within two months of each other, and she had a cancer scare herself. She rode this year in honor of a friend’s youngest child, Patrick O’Donnell, a University of Utah ice hockey goalie diagnosed with glioblastoma last August. 

Van der Swaagh rides for his son, Ewan, now 13 and moving into seventh grade. “He’s an amazing human being,” the proud dad said of the two-time cancer survivor, treated at Dana-Farber/Boston Children’s. 

The event is a time for riders to enjoy themselves, too: “This year, the weather couldn’t have been more perfect,” Nolan said. 

Van der Swaagh, who stayed overnight at PMC accommodations at the Massachusetts Maritime Academy in Buzzards Bay one year, chuckled over the dorms being so hot and humid that people dragged their mattresses outside to sleep. This year, he opted to stay with family near Bourne. 

Fundraising is a big part of the journey. Each rider, depending on their age and route choice, committed to raising between $1,000 and $6,000 this year. They have until November to reach their goals. 

Using Facebook to put out her appeal, Jasinski heard from people she had not seen since kindergarten.  

Lotane had more of a challenge with fundraising this year: “When Jim and Mary [Jasinski] weren’t riding, we could hit them up for donations,” he laughed. 

Launched in 1980 with 36 riders, the Pan-Mass Challenge now donates 100% of the rider-raised funds to Dana-Farber.  

The PMC raised $69 million in 2022. It’s responsible for more than 60 percent of the annual revenue of the Jimmy Fund, which solely supports the fight against cancer at Dana-Farber.