By Seth Daniel
When Andy Brand pedals through the backroads of the Pan Mass Challenge (PMC) route, he doesn’t tend to look at his speed or time himself.
Instead, he looks at the signs along the route and the people who come out to support him.
He high-fives the young people who have survived cancer or know someone who did.
Rather than racing, Brand chooses encouragement.
And it’s kept him going back for the past 17 years as a way of leaving the world a better place than it was before he came into it.
“It’s not a race, so the speed you go doesn’t matter that much,” he said of the 200-mile ride that will take place this weekend from Sturbridge to Cape Cod to raise funds for cancer research. “You have all year to worry about your speed and pace. The important thing is really taking in the experience. There are people all along the course that are grateful to you. You can really appreciate what it is you’re doing by seeing all of those people with encouraging signs along the way, and it would be kind of foolish to spend your time looking at the bike computer to see how fast you’re going and miss that. I know quite a bit about the science experiments and I follow that, but it’s the people on the road that allow you to see the result of this. It’s gratifying to know the experiments they conduct, but there’s nothing more gratifying than meeting the people – the families, the kids and the survivors.”
The PMC begins this Friday when riders report to the Black Falcon Terminal in South Boston to load up their things and take a bus ride out to Sturbridge. There, they spend the night and begin the ride on Saturday morning. There is a break at the end of the day, another night of rest, and then the race picks up again Sunday morning and goes to its ending point on Cape Cod. There are more then 6,000 riders in the PMC, which has been ongoing for 36 years and supports Dana Farber Cancer Centers, and some 3,500 that complete the full 200-mile course.
Brand has been living in the South End’s Worcester Square area for 19 years, and got involved with the PMC 17 years ago. He began because his mother was diagnosed with breast cancer, and he felt the need to take some sort of action. Since then, he’s raised close to $200,000 through his efforts, with $15,000 raised this year.
“I felt helpless when my mom was diagnosed and I wanted to do something,” he said. “I’m not a cancer researcher and I’m not trained as a scientist, but I wanted to do something. In 2000, I started riding. I’m really excited about the progress made over those years. There’s along way to go, but when I started riding, the statistics were much worse.”
He said that in 1947, one in five children survived cancer. In 2000, four of five survived. Now, in 2016, nine in 10 children survive cancer.
“Essentially they have cut the rate in half,” he said. “Developments have been coming quickly because of the mapping of the genome. I’m really optimistic that by the time I can’t ride anymore, it will be substantially solved.”
Brand said he used to ride a bicycle casually before taking up the PMC. Before, a ride around the Charles River and back to the South End would occupy an entire afternoon and really tire him out. Now he does many, many miles in the outskirts of Boston with no problem.
In the winter, he continues to train, but doesn’t put as many miles on the bike – not riding in slippery conditions or temperatures below 20 degrees. However, once the spring hits, it’s time to train.
“You need to build up your legs with long rides, but you also just need a base of miles continuously,” he said. “I used to train by commuting to my work in Bedford. That was a 37 mile trip and it really helped me to build up the miles for me…However, long bike rides are as much about mental endurance as physical endurance. There are times in the ride you really want to get off the bike and times you don’t think you can go another mile. What works for me in those times is to set a goal of going another 10 miles, and once I reach that, another 10 miles. That helps. It’s surprising how much the endurance part is mental.”
Brand said the PMC is exciting for him and it’s changed his life.
“I don’t know what I’d do in the spring without the PMC,” he said. “It’s changed my awareness of cancer. Because I do the ride and work so hard on it, I have a lot of people who come up to me and want to share their stories with me about their connection to cancer. One thing that seems to never be able to leave them is that they all say they wake up and wonder if it will be the day the cancer comes back. It’s something for survivors that is hard to fully get out of their heads. It helps to remind me that despite the differences, there are so many similarities between people. You have conservatives, religious people, very liberal people and atheists all focused on the same thing. This is something that unites us.”
To contribute to Brand’s PMC ride, visit the following link: http://profile.pmc.org/AB0079.
Andy Brand of the South End will participate in his 17th Pan Mass Challenge this weekend, and has raised nearly $200,000 over the years to help cancer research at Dana Farber. Here, he is pictured riding on the dunes of Cape Cod, and also stopping to hear the story of a young cancer survivor along the route.