GROTON — The Groundhogs PMC Express is made up of a group of friends from the Groton area who ride in the Pan Mass Challenge (PMC) each year.
This year’s team, which includes two breast cancer survivors, is comprised of Tricia Upton, Rich Tortolini, Kevin Barrett, Steve Clickner, Jamie Greacen, Karen Hartzell, Shirley Cosenze, Chuck McKinney, Damon Irby, Doug Furciniti, Steven McCusker, Scott Holmes, Sharon McGowan and Ray Murphy.
“We all have our reasons for riding,” said Murphy, “mostly because of the experiences of loved ones fighting and sometimes losing the battle to cancer.
“I lost my mom when I was 12,” he said. “We dedicate our ride to our family and friends and help carry a message of hope and support. There is something powerful in the collective efforts of people pulling together in a common cause.”
The PMC is the largest sports fundraiser in the world. This year’s event, the 36th PMC ride, takes place Aug. 1 and 2. Along the course that runs through 46 towns across Massachusetts, are food and water stations, mechanical and medical assistance, and lodging.
There are six two-day routes that range from 132 to 190 miles, and six one-day rides that range from 25 to 110 miles.
With over 5,000 riders (over 300 of them being cancer survivors) and volunteers, last year’s participants brought in $41M to Dana Farber to fund cancer therapies and research. This year’s goal is to raise $45M.
Over its 35-year life, the PMC has raised $455 million for Dana Farber. Murphy added, “Our little team from Groton, entering its tenth year riding the PMC, has accounted for $500,000 in donations.”
In past years, the Groundhogs PMC Express have teamed up with pedal partners — children who are being treated at Dana Farber. The Groundhogs get to know and support their pedal partners through the ride.
Murphy said, “The last few years, our pedal partner has been Olivia Bonfilio, a young teenage girl from Massachusetts who I am happy to say has been in remission now for over a year.”
This year, the team has a very personal connection and reason for riding. Benjamin Niose is a rising sophomore at Bancroft School who lives in Lunenberg. Cooper Murphy, son of Ray Murphy and Beth Lindstrom, and Ben have been close friends since they started attending Applewild School together in first grade. Another friend, Miles Barker from Groton, forms the third member of their threesome who as first-graders dubbed themselves the Three Musketeers.
Ben ran varsity cross country in the fall and won the coach’s award for most improved runner. He participates in volunteer work, plays the trumpet in the school’s jazz band, is an honor student, and wants to be a doctor.
In December 2014, Ben was diagnosed with an extremely rare form of 3-Way metastatic transmutation of Ewing Sarcoma (a bone tumor) on his left scapular. It metastasized to his T-10 spine, scapular lymph nodes and lungs. Ben is undergoing compressed chemotherapy treatment along with radiation of his scapular spine and later in July will undergo treatment on his lungs. Latest PT scans and MRIs have shown miraculous shrinkage of tumors to the points where surgery on his scapular may no longer be necessary. If all goes according to plan, Ben should be finished with treatment in July.
The fundraising requirements to ride in the PMC are part of the challenge. Each rider commits to raising $4,300 to participate in the two-day ride from Sturbridge to Provincetown.
“This is not easy, so to offset the fundraising, we typically hold events to raise funds,” Murphy said. “This year we held a wine and craft beer-tasting event with entertainment provided by the Tender Men band at “Upstairs at the General Store” in Harvard.”
Murphy continued, “In honor of Ben, several Groundhogs team members as well as some of Ben’s family members, including Ben’s uncle Frank Burgoyne and his grandfather Bill Burgoyne, also volunteered to be sheared, taking part in the ‘Get Buzzed for Ben challenge.’ It was an idea that my son Cooper and I had — to cut off our hair as signs of our support for Ben. We asked people to sponsor the challenge with donations to the team’s PMC account. That part of the evening raised over $3,000.”
Tony Lopez of Body, Mind and Spirit in Groton donated his time and good humor to do the buzz cuts. Cooper Murphy said to his dad, “Each day our hair will grow a little bit at a time, just like Ben will get a little better every day, until eventually it gets back to normal.”
Team Groundhogs PMC Express will continue to raise funds until the August event. Anyone wanting to help fund the treatments that are being applied to save people like Ben everyday, can donate to the Groundhog PMC Express account by going to www.pmc.org/egifts/TG0075 and making a donation using a credit card, or can mail a check made payable to “PMC” to Ray Murphy, 161 Wharton Row, Groton MA 01450.