By Steve Sears
There are specific reasons that have ensured Mendham’s Thomas Fuller taking part every year in the Pan-Mass Challenge bike-a-thon that raises money for cancer research and patient care at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, Massachusetts.
Perhaps this really sums it up. “If you go on my PMC page,” Fuller says, “there’s a picture of me with a little youngster. His name is Jack, and he’s got a sign that he’s holding that says, ‘I’m 12 now thanks to you.’ So the message is, if it wasn’t for the work of the doctors at Dana-Farber, and the work of the cyclists at the PMC, and the donors that support us and the money raised – if it wasn’t for all of that, this young lad may not have had his fourth or fifth or sixth birthday. He may just have been another victim. Those kinds of stories are really what keeps me going every year, and at the end to be honest with you, I well up with tears every year. Every year when I cross the Provincetown finish line and all those people are cheering for us, I would say it’s impossible for me not to get overwhelmed.”
Fuller is a “Living Proof Rider,” someone who was diagnosed with cancer and battled it successfully, and continues to ride the PMC-Mass Challenge. He explains “I was fortunate enough to have had, number one, it (bladder cancer) diagnosed early and, number two, it was a very treatable form of cancer. I’m one of the lucky ones who’s been through it and come out the other side.”
When asked what has changed for him in the 20 years he has been doing the ride, Fuller says, “I’ve gotten older, and the ride hasn’t gotten any easier. And unfortunately, I have more people that were either family members or people close to me in my life that have succumbed to the disease.”
Fuller, who will be 70 in November, is a biker, but does train well for his yearly, worthwhile excursion. “I try to do between 100 and 150 miles a week starting in March through October,” he says. “In June and July, I start throwing in longer, more difficult rides. Out in Morris and Hunterdon counties, there are no shortage of hills, so I try to make sure that my training includes some pretty challenging rides. Day one of the PMC is 112 miles, and I don’t care what kind of training you have, 112 miles is a lot of miles. And unfortunately, this past August we had as you might remember a massive heat wave. It was about 97 degrees on that day. The ride was more about my survival than beating my best time.”
As previously mentioned, the terminus of the yearly Pan-Mass Challenge is Provincetown, and when Fuller finally arrives, his first thought is, “I can’t wait to get off my bike,” he says with a brief chuckle prior to continuing. “The finish line is rewarding, and there are a lot of people there cheering you on, so there is a feeling of, ‘I made it- another year in the books.” However, as significant as that is, for Fuller it’s the journey again that is most memorable. “I would say the more poignant expression of feeling is really along the route, when you see people out in front of their yard with a sign saying, ‘Thank you for riding. My mom battled cancer.’ On and on, the signs are amazing. Some of them have a laundry list of names. It’s really something.”
Fuller intends to march on into his 21st year of the Pan-Mass Challenge. “You have to commit to this ride pretty far in advance, and so that’s a decision I’ll be making around the holiday time because their commitment date is early in January,” he says. “But right now, my mindset is I’m going to continue to ride as long as God allows it. As long as I’m fortunate enough to have generous donors, the least I can do is get on my bike and ride as long as God gives me the ability to do that. I see no reason why I should stop.”
Fuller lauds the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. “I think the biggest thing and one of the things that keeps me so committed is the fact that every dollar that I raise goes directly to cancer research and patient care,” Fuller states. “It’s a 100% pass through. The PMC is an organization that is supported corporately, and so the individual donors that support individual riders, all that money goes directly through to the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. There’s not many charities out there that can make that kind of statement.”
For more information about the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, visit www.daba-farber.org.