In honor of the 30th anniversary Pan-Massachusetts Challenge, the PMC blog will take you on a ride through history. Today we continue 30 years in 30 weeks with a look back at the PMC in 1995. 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.
Check out past 30 Years in 30 weeks posts here.
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30 years in 30 weeks
Paul Tsongas kept his word and joined the Pan-Massachusetts Challenge as a rider in the summer of 1995. The senator, three-time cancer survivor and 1992 presidential candidate found unlikely similarities between the PMC and politics.
“In retrospect, it’s like an election – it’s a good thing you don’t know what you are getting into when you start,” Tsongas said after the 1995 ride. “You stay in it because you don’t want to be embarrassed.”
The Lowell native had planned to ride the PMC in 1994, but was sidelined by bronchial infection. In 1995, a groin injury from over-training almost kept him out again.
But Tsongas, like so many other PMC riders and cancer survivors, preserved. He’d had never ridden more than 21 miles on a bike until he started training for the PMC.
“I think people who have survived cancer are often astonished just by being there,” said Tsongas, who was treated for lymphoma at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. “I’m sure all of the riders who are cancer survivors have thought to themselves at one time or another during the day – ‘My gosh, I’m here and I’m part of this.’”
Tsongas biked 83 miles that year from Boston to Bourne. He was joined by more than 1,700 riders who completed one of four routes on the way to raising $3.5 million for cancer research and care.
Cancer ultimately took Tsongas’ life in 1997. He was 55.
Like Tsongas, Leslie Semonian didn’t let cancer keep her out of the PMC. A former PMC volunteer who was celebrating two years of being cancer-free, Semonian got on the bike in 1995 and created the first all women team: Wicked Women on Wheels.
A year later, facing another bout with cancer, the 28-year-old was undergoing grueling chemotherapy treatments. But Semonian rode again, joining PMC director of operations Chris McKeown on a tandem bike.
She returned the next two years to ride by herself. In between, she pledged her support for Dana-Farber and the PMC through a variety of volunteer roles.
In 1999, cancer returned. In the final months of her life, Semonian created “Leslie’s Links,” inspiring her friends and family to continue the fight against cancer in her honor.
Here’s what the Leslie’s Links Team says about her today:
“During the eight-and-a-half year period of cancer, until her death on December 14th, 1999, Leslie never allowed her illness to stand in the way of her goal of helping others. Her passion for life was boundless, and will continue in the hearts of the many friends and relatives whom she inspired.”
PMC 1995 facts
Event date: Aug. 5 and 6
190 total miles