Cancer has consumed the lives of millions of people around the United States and the world as a whole. For decades, efforts have been made by doctors across the globe to develop a cure for cancer. It is a very well-known fact that a critical component in this effort has been raising the money to fund the research to find a cure. Many people have walked for the cure, run for the cure, and even rode for the cure. This summer, JMU men's soccer associate head coach Tom Foley had the opportunity to participate in the Pan-Massachusetts Challenge, a grueling two-day, 192-mile bike ride through a total of 46 Massachusetts cities and towns.
The Pan-Mass Challenge is considered to be the original charity bike-a-thon event in the United States. The first recorded Challenge was in 1980, when founder and now Executive Director Billy Starr and a dozen of his friends got together and decided to ride with a set goal of raising money for cancer research. Thirty years later, The Pan Mass Challenge has been called "the single most successful athletic fundraising event in the Nation."
Foley's story may seem familiar to some and foreign to others, but it is definitely one that will resonate with all. At the age of 18, Foley lost his father to cancer, and six years later, his mother lost her fight with the disease. "The first time I rode, I dedicated the ride to my parents. My first level of motivation was to ride to give back to a cause that directly impacted my family," said Foley, who has been an avid cyclist since his time playing soccer at the University of Connecticut.
While coaching high school soccer, Foley had the opportunity to participate in the Challenge again, dedicating his ride and the funds that were raised to one of his players whose mother was fighting cancer, as well as a student-athlete from an opposing team who was battling cancer. This year, however, Foley decided to ride for the JMU community and specifically three Dukes that have impacted his life over the past years.
"My motivation this year began with the people in the JMU community who have been affected in some way by cancer," said Foley. He first decided to commit to participate in this year's challenge when redshirt junior and starting forward for the men's soccer team, Markus Bjørkheim, lost his mother a year ago to cancer. Another Duke that Foley had been impacted by was Dixie Rhodes, a cancer fighter and survivor who currently works in the JMU athletics business office. Finally, Foley decided to ride for Jimmy Edwards, a former JMU men's soccer player and avid cyclists who attends all JMU men's soccer alumni events and who is currently battling cancer. "I've been touched by all of these people over the past year and I felt like the ride was just something that I had to do, not only to honor them, but to give back to my original reason of doing it, which would be my parents."
Starr has been quoted as saying that "the success of this event is due to the fact that all PMC riders are encouraged - actually, required - to take their fundraising commitment as seriously as their physical commitment to ride the event." When asked about his training regimen to prepare for this event Foley attributed successful training sessions to the mountainous terrain that is the Harrisonburg/Rockingham county area. "Training rides consisted of four to five rides a week ranging anywhere between 20-50 miles in distance. If you can ride in this area, you can ride almost anywhere in the country."
In regards to the fundraising aspect of the challenge, Foley decided to surpass the required $4,200 fundraising commitment and take on a $6,500 challenge. "I decided I wanted to go above and beyond and tap into two groups of people," said Foley. "That is the people who I know in the state of Massachusetts that have helped me out in the past, and my JMU community."
When asked about his strategy regarding raising the funds for the Challenge, Coach Foley said, "It's just a matter of getting the word out. In years past I've created and held events to raise money, but this year it was all word of mouth. People from JMU that I don't even know have contacted me by way of Facebook and emails that have gone out through JMU wanting to donate money." Foley believes that people's desire to give to a cause such as this one, comes from the simple fact that everyone has been affected by cancer somehow, directly or indirectly.
Foley believes there are three types of people when it comes to who cancer has affected. "The 'Survivors' are those who have fought cancer, beaten it, and maintain the courage and understanding that it may return and that they can beat it again. The 'Caretakers' are those who are behind the scenes that do all the extra things to make the lives of those who are fighting that much more comfortable. The people 'Left Behind' are those who have known people who have suffered from cancer and passed on, and they are now left to fight the emotional battle of losing a friend or family member." Not only does each Duke that Foley rode for fit into these categories, but every Duke across the world can somehow relate to one of these groups of people.
"When you actually do the ride, and the physical challenge of getting through the 192 miles, you see that it pales in comparison to the lifelong struggles that people have to deal with when they battle cancer. All of us that do the ride do it in hopes that it prolongs people's lives in the future, finds a cure for cancer, and helps the ones who are fighting for their lives right now."
Foley encourages everyone who is an avid cyclist to participate in this event at least once. Even if not riding, donations can still be made to the cause. For more information regarding the Pan-Mass Challenge, visit the website at www.pmc.org/. To specifically donate to Coach Foley's ride, please visit his Pan-Mass Challenge profile page. One-hundred percent of the money donated will go to the Dana Farber Cancer Institute. "Every mile you ride you get closer to the cure."