Local ‘virtual riders’ ready to log miles for cancer research

GREATER WESTFIELD-For two Southwick cyclists participating in the Pan-Mass Challenge 2020 Reimagined event on Aug. 1, their commitment to raising funds for the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute is personal.

“My first year riding this event in 2018 had me hooked,” said Mike Barna of Southwick, adding, “So many people cheering us on at 4 a.m. on Saturday morning in Sturbridge all the way to the end in Provincetown on Sunday afternoon.”

Mike Barna of Southwick participates in the Pan-Mass Challenge each year to honor family members and friends who have battled cancer. (SUBMITTED PHOTO)

The Pan-Mass Challenge’s traditional ride, which typically includes 12 routes spanning 25 to 192 miles over the first weekend of every August, will be transformed into a virtual experience on Aug. 1 due to the coronavirus pandemic.  ‘Challenge’ organizers note that virtual riders make a difference because they are committed to raising funds to cure cancer. Virtual riders can “ride one’s own long-distance route, log miles over time, or never get on a bike,” according to details on the Pan-Mass Challenge (PMC) website.

The 2020 challenge will remotely bring together thousands of riders, volunteers, donors and supporters from around the globe to virtually celebrate the spirit of PMC weekend while raising funds for cancer research and patient care at Dana-Farber.

Many participate in the challenge to honor a family member or friend who has battled cancer, while more than 940 riders and volunteers are cancer survivors or current patients themselves.

For Barna, cycling for this fundraiser is “very emotional” for him.

“My wife has been battling skin cancer for over 19 years,” said Barna. “My own mom has survived breast cancer this year. I have many friends that are still fighting this deadly disease, and some who have lost their lives. I ride for a cure.”

Barna’s good friend, Jim Sabatino, also of Southwick, shared a similar sentiment.

“It is year seven for me,” said Sabatino of his participation in the yearly challenge. “I ride in memory of my mom and dad who both passed away from cancer less than two years apart from each other.”

Jim Sabatino of Southwick gives a thumbs up during the 2019 Pan-Mass Challenge. He participates each year in memory of his mom and dad. (SUBMITTED PHOTO)

While this year’s cyclists will create their own ride routes, their passion for raising funds for the Pan-Mass Challenge remains steadfast.

“The plan is to ride 200 miles in one day,” said Barna, noting he and Sabatino will start out early on the morning of Aug. 1. “We will be posting on Facebook live when possible.”

The men are still working out the logistics for the routes but expect to do 50-mile loops from their homes in Southwick. 

“With COVID-19 going on it will be better,” said Barna of the “reimagined” fundraiser. “Replenishing our calorie burning is also important and our girls will have all the food we need.”

Riders also from Southwick include David Amanti and Kevin McAvoy, as well as Westfield residents Brittney Tattan, Kristin Halley, Jeff Amanti, Nicholas Amanti, and Michael Brunelle, according to PMC organizers.

For Halley, riding in the PMC is an annual way to say thank you to the staff at Dana-Farber.

Kristin Halley of Westfield participates in the annual Pan-Mass Challenge in memory of her mom. (SUBMITTED PHOTO)

“This would have been my fifth year riding in the PMC, and I feel that this year maybe even more important to commit to raising funds for such a great cause,” said Halley. “Dana-Farber was the reason my mom was blessed with an additional 18 years after her first diagnosis of cancer. I will continue to support Dana-Farber in memory of my mom and in support of other family and friends currently fighting and for those who may unfortunately have to fight in the future. Dana-Farber has made such great advances and we need to continue this progress for all of our loved ones.”

Billy Starr, founder and PMC executive director, said in a statement he is “grateful for the continued support” from a growing community of supporters.

“It is thanks to the unwavering passion and commitment of our riders, volunteers, donors and sponsors that the PMC can continue to make tangible impact on advancements in cancer research and treatment, even through this difficult time,” said Starr. “We look forward to having old and new participants join us on Aug. 1, bound together by our dream of a world without cancer.”

Kevin McAvoy, also of Southwick, said he will be participating in his sixth Pan-Mass Challenge.

“I was inspired to ride in 2015 soon after my then 11-month-old daughter, Avery, was diagnosed with stage 4 neuroblastoma,” said McAvoy. “The care and attention she received at the Jimmy Fund clinic at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute was unparalleled. I had to try and give back somehow and since I already enjoyed cycling, riding in the Pan-Mass Challenge just made sense. Avery is now 7-years-old and her strength inspires me to ride every year.”

Kevin McAvoy, who will be participating in his sixth Pan-Mass Challenge, is seen during last year’s event with daughter Avery, and son, Brennan. (SUBMITTED PHOTO)

PMC organizers note that 100% of every rider-raised dollar is donated directly to Dana-Farber through its fundraising arm, the Jimmy Fund, accounting for more than 57% of the Jimmy Fund’s annual revenue. In 2019, the PMC donated a record-breaking $63 million to Dana-Farber, bringing its 40-year contribution to more than $717 million.

The PMC is presented by the Red Sox Foundation. 

For Tattan, riding in the PMC is a family affair.

“This is my fifth year riding and fourth as a member of team ‘Living Proof,'” said Tattan, noting the Living Proof team is for riders who are undergoing cancer treatment or are cancer survivors. “I finished all my treatment in March 2019.”

Tattan said she will be riding with her brothers, Jeff and Nick Amanti, and her father, David Amanti. This will be Jeff’s third year riding in the PMC, Nick’s first year participating, and David’s eighth year riding.

“My brothers joined the ride to show their support for me as riding my bike was something I did for my mental health while undergoing cancer treatment,” said Tattan.

To make a financial contribution to a rider from Westfield or Southwick or to become a virtual rider or supporter, visit www.pmc.org, or call (800) WE-CYCLE. For links to Barna’s fundraising profile, visit https://profile.pmc.org/MB0672, Sabatino at https://profile.pmc.org/JS0717, McAvoy at https://profile.pmc.org/KM0402, and Halley at https://profile.pmc.org/KH0235.

“You cannot help shed tears along the way,” said Barna of his previous rides, adding, “Faces of children that have survived cancer lining Cherry Street and when you pull in the rest stop they are standing in line clapping for us. This is one very emotional ride for sure.”

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