In honor of the 30th anniversary Pan-Massachusetts Challenge, the PMC blog will take you on a ride through history. We launch 30 years in 30 weeks today, with a look back at the inaugural PMC in 1980. We’ll coast through the event’s history, featuring a new year each week, as we lead up to the 30th annual ride on Aug. 1 and 2.
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30 years in 30 weeks
The calls went out and listings were placed in local newspapers: take a 220-mile bike ride across Massachusetts to raise money for the Jimmy Fund
Billy Starr, 29, had found a way to deal with his grief after losing his mother, uncle and cousin to cancer.
“I channeled it into sports: I hiked, I climbed, and biked,” Billy wrote years later. “Sweating it out was cathartic. The sweat and grief led to an idea. I would ask my friends to join me on a long-distance cycling pilgrimage across the state in the name of cancer research.”
He reached out to old friends to join him on this first ever weekend ride.
Barry Kraft had known Billy Starr since kindergarten. He rode with Billy in a 1979 ride from Newton to Provincetown “just for fun.” The next year, when Billy asked, Kraft signed on for the charity bike ride.
Jim Cornblatt got a call from Billy the week before the first PMC. “What are you doing next weekend?” Billy asked. Cornblatt became a volunteer and drove the sag wagon.
Doug Gray was novice cyclist and saw the ad in the newspaper for the first ever PMC. He considered it a worthwhile personal challenge and signed up.
A total of 36 people came together in 1980 and the Pan-Massachusetts Challenge was born.
It took patience, ingenuity and persistence to get that first ride up and running. The starting line was a small cluster of vans and trucks at the Eastfield Mall in Springfield. There was no formal registration; just check marks on a piece of paper kept in the back of the van. Riders received bright red T-shirts.
Long before there were water stops, full service lunch stops, or an afternoon party, refreshments in 1980 was organized and served by Amy Bresky and her friend.
“I made a bowl of chicken salad and we took it out there and set up two lawn chairs. The riders stopped, we gave them a sandwich, and that was the first PMC lunch stop,” Bresky said.
Bresky then realized there were no water stops along the route, so her friend stayed back with a jug of water and Bresky rode ahead in her truck. The woman hitchhiked to meet back up with Bresky and they leapfrogged their way along the route, setting up impromptu water stops for cyclists as they went.
Cyclists, often alone for miles, would get lost. Everyone got lost at some point over the course of the weekend, Starr now says.
Even though food was scarce and riders finished in darkness, everyone felt a sense of accomplishment and purpose.
“I accomplished more than I ever though I could. I knew I would have to come back for more,” said Barry Kraft.
“I remember 1980 very clearly. That same positive feeling we all got by achieving a personal goal while raising money for the Jimmy Fund that first year comes forth every PMC weekend,” Billy said.
Billy said he started the PMC hoping that a group of people unified by one goal could make a difference in the lives of others.
“The weekend had been an inspiration, and people found different ways to articulate its meaning” Billy said. The first way was to throw Starr into the harbor as they waited for the bus to pick them up and drive them back to Boston.
On the bus ride home, Starr realized he was on to something life altering.
“Everyone was so excited about what they’d accomplished, I knew the ride tapped into something bigger than I ever imagined,” he said.
Little did he know what was down the road, 29 years later.
PMC 1980 facts
Event date: Sept. 6 and 7
$350 fundraising minimum for two day rider
220 total miles (the longest PMC ever)
Start: Eastfield Mall, Springfield
Finish: A restaurant on Provincetown Pier