“It’s a labour of love”: Chris Villani in the Pan Mass Challenge 2010.

6:00 am. Massachusetts. Today.

3,000 volunteer bicycle riders will put their foot down on their pedals for the “Pan Mass Challenge” – a 2 day ride originating in Sturbridge and ending in Bourne, now in its 30th year, having raised over $270 million for the Jimmy Fund to date for cancer research and care at the renowned Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.

PMC Founder and Executive Director Billy Starr has shaped the most successful, athletic fundraising event across the States. One weekend in 1980 he led dozens of friends from Springfield to make a ride of endurance, and speed, across the Appalachian Trial. In the beginning, he was solely focused on finishing with the group intact, but by the end the Pan-Massacusetts Challenge was founded.

And I had the pleasure of e-interviewing one rider before today’s big event.

According to National Statistics Online, one in three people develop cancer during their lives. Over one in four people die from cancer.

You hear about it, don’t you?

This grandfather with lung cancer, that grandmother with bladder cancer. Another grandmother with gall bladder cancer. This 24 year old mate with lymphoma. They still live.

This aunt had cancer which metastasized to her breast, liver, colon, and bone… and died.

But these are not just statistics. These are real people, with real lives… and these incidences happened in the last couple of years. To the family of one man.

“It’s hard to really put into words how something like this makes you feel. When my grandparents were sick, it was hard, but at the same time there is this feeling of understanding that illness is often part of aging.

“(But) most sobering and shocking of all, I got the call from Jamie, my college roommate, all of 24 years old last year.

“He had cancer.

When Jamie, a perfectly healthy 24 year old man who doesn’t feel sick whatsoever is suddenly “sick” it’s just hard to comprehend.”

~

This is Chris Villani. 25 ½ years old. 1 of the 3000 volunteers in the Pan Mass Challenge.

6th – 7th August: 192 miles over 2 days. An average of 20-22 miles per hour. (See the route here.)

And he has, so far, raised just over ½ of his goal of $4,200 to go directly to the Jimmy Fund.

When Chris Villani was a kid, he used to go to the Massachusetts vacation destination of Cape Cod – “down the Cape” – and watch the Pan Mass Challenge riders go by. This year, though, he will be one of them. His parents and his friends will be watching him along the route, and they will be waiting for him at the finish in Provincetown.

Since he was a kid at Cape Cod, he’s done a lot of growing up.

But it’s at 24 that he got the “most sobering and shocking of all” experiences.

“I was, oddly enough, on the Cape when Jamie called to tell me about his diagnosis.

“Jamie and I roomed together in sophomore year and we shared a lot of great experiences together. We also were together to watch our favourite tea, the Boston Red Sox, win the World Series in 2004.

His diagnosis was a reminder for me of how all too indiscriminate this killer can be.

“He was upbeat and optimistic, confident he would beat this disease.

“Which he ultimately has.”

And Chris Villani has a personal surprise for Jamie:

“He doesn’t know his name is on my jersey, but I’ll be giving him one of our jerseys the day of his wedding this September.  He’s marrying a young lady named Courtney and I helped introduce the two!

“Any time I get tired or don’t want to do the last 10 or 20 miles I think of him (Jamie), think of my grandparents, and the other people out there who battle this disease and it gives me a little extra push to keep going.”

The fundraising, however, may need a little extra push. The Pan Mass Challenge REQUIRES riders to meet the minimum. And this is the credit crunch that the Boston Globe cited as the reason for a lean year in 2009.

So how has he managed to raise just over half of his goal so far?

It is a credit to his tireless dedication. As a midday sports flash anchor, a play by play broadcaster, and aspiring talk show host, he is playing all the cards he has.

He has made pitches on the radio, and he has written his own column about his experience in the Mendon Town Crier.

He has also sent this to all his email contacts:

“I am about 50% of the way to my goal of $4,200 and would love to have your help in getting there.  If everyone on this E-mail list donated just $20, I would easily blow past my goal and help out the Jimmy Fund and the Dana Farber Cancer Institute.  Remember, 100% of every text, online, and check donation goes to the cause.  This year, more than 5,000 riders in the PMC hope to turn over a donation of $31 million to the Jimmy Fund, making this the single largest fund raiser of the year for an organization that does great work in treating cancer and brightening the lives of the men, women, and far too many children battling the disease.”

And he has challenged everyone on Facebook to donate just $10.

But he is not just sending messages – he personally thanked me, very much, for clicking “attending” on the Facebook event page.

Just one click; no donation. And he thanked me.

He emanates complete confidence, not just that he will succeed, but that this cause is worth succeeding for.

And he doesn’t let figures get in the way of him putting his all into the actual event:

“I will make my goal, I have no doubt.

“All riders have until October 1st to reach their fund raising goals and my teammates and I have some fundraisers planned for after the P.M.C. weekend. Either way, I am looking forward to the event, which so many people have told me is very well run and a great time.”

~

When quizzed on his training regime, his sheer love of riding, discipline and achievement shines through:

“Believe it or not, the training is the easy part! I started riding 25 miles, then 35, 45, 55, and so on each week. I would also do hill climbing practice during the week. When I was climbing Wachusett Mountain in the middle of the 118 miles, it was a difficult ride, but getting to the summit and the subsequent descent, during which I broke 50 miles per hour, made it worth the effort. It’s really a labour of love.”

Racking my brains for some objective journalistic question in the face of his unfailing confidence and Herculian heroism, I decided to play devil’s advocate:

What would you say to someone who says it’s not necessary to do all that hard work of cycling when you can just fundraise, or donate, alone?

And his response summed up the P.M.C. in such a way that it’s founder Billy Starr would be proud:

“The dollars raised for the Jimmy Fund are important, but even more important is the ability to give time to raise awareness for the cause.  There is also a great deal of comradery involved in being together for the training and the event itself, from sharing stories of loved ones both lost and saved to experiencing the feeling of accomplishing something bigger than the sum of its parts, the entire experience is worthwhile.”

“I would appreciate any donation you might be able to give, remember 100% of every donation goes to the Jimmy Fund to help those battling cancer as well as their families.”

Donating is easy, here’s how you do it:

1) To make a $10 text donation, send “PMC CV0042” to 20222.  You can do this up to five times.
2) To donate online, please visit Chris Villani’s PMC profile: http://www.pmc.org/profile/CV0042
3) To make a check donation, just send me an E-mail and I will provide you with information on who to make the check out to and where to send it


Chris Villani

PMC Profile: http://www.pmc.org/profile/CV0042

Email: ChrisVillani44@gmail.com

Blog: The Sports Flash

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