This Pan Massachusetts Challenge story spans three generations, across several states. Meet the Palan/Lopez family: Sherm and his wife Beverly and his daughter Ruth Lopez and family of Sharon Mass. and David Palan, and his family, from Ann Arbor, Michigan.
Three Generations of the Pan-Mass Challenge
The story starts with David Palan, who had a crazy idea in 1991. He decided to ride his bike across Massachusetts as an endurance ride. Rather than complete the ride self-supported, he decided to ride in the Pan-Massachusetts Challenge (PMC). Two days and 200 miles would be quite a feat and the PMC would supply all the support that he would need. All he had to do was ride – oh, and he had to raise $400 for the Jimmy Fund, too.
And so it began.
After experiencing his first PMC, David never looked at it as an athletic endeavor again. While there is – no doubt – a level of athleticism required to complete the trip across the state on a bicycle saddle; the PMC is a rolling family that has a life of its own. Following the first year, David’s focus went from watching the odometer to watching the fundraising totals.
While the PMC was a new endeavor in the Palan family, the Jimmy Fund certainly was not. For as long as he could remember, David had seen an old black and white photo of young kids selling their comic books on a street corner. “That was me as a kid,” his father Sherm would tell him, “We did that as a fundraiser for the Jimmy Fund.” The year was 1948 and Sherm and a few of his friends raised more than $50 for the newly-formed charity.
David took on the PMC mission. He began by recruiting donors, and later moved on to recruiting riders. After riding for six years ‘alone’ (with only 900 or so other riders), David enlisted three friends who rode as team “Friends of Frada.” Friends of Frada was named for Frada Rubin, an inspirational woman who successfully fought two battles against leukemia before succumbing to a brain tumor shortly after being declared cancer free.
The team consisted of David, Frada’s son Larry Rubin, Joel Richards, and Peter Wick. Larry, Joel and David grew up together in Sharon, Massachusetts; Peter and David went to Northeastern University together where they were active cyclists.
As a team, and as individuals, they were all dedicated to helping the cause. Soon they enlisted honorary Pedal Partners that gave them more reason to ride. They firmly believe that their ‘struggle’ – whether it’s trying to crest the next hill or trying to raise the next dollar – is small when compared to the daily struggle of those undergoing cancer treatments. The pain that they feel as they grind the pedals is a pain that they can endure. They can train for it, reduce it, and recover from it. The pain of dealing daily with cancer is not a choice, although through the efforts of the PMC and the research that it helps fund, more and more people have found that it can be reduced and recovered from.
In the year 2000, David’s parents, Sherm and Bev Palan were sitting with David at the PMC lunch stop when David said, “Dad maybe you should start riding before you become too old to ride.” Sherm accepted the challenge with the understanding that he would ride the PMC once. “I’m not going to become some kind of rider or anything,” he said.
So, beginning the following spring, Sherm broke out a 25-year-old bike and set out to ride around the block. Needless to say, that first mile of training ride was a terrible ordeal, but it got easier as the year progressed. David also seized on the excuse to buy a new bike and donate his gently used Fuji to Sherm’s efforts. After all, Sherm had no desire to ride more than once.
To break in his new bicycle and as a warm-up for the 2001 PMC, David rode with Peter from David’s home in Ann Arbor, Michigan to his boyhood home in Sharon, Mass. The pair took 10 days to ride the 800 mile warm up. One day from Ann Arbor to the Canadian border, two days across Canada, five riding days from Buffalo, NY to Springfield, MA and finally a day from Springfield to Sharon.
The pair arrived to a hero’s welcome in Sharon Center where they were greeted by the chairman of the Sharon Board of Selectmen who awarded each a certificate of appreciation.
After a two days’ rest, the team drove out to Sturbridge for the PMC’s opening ceremony. Following the usual sleepless night and early morning start of the PMC, they all left Sturbridge at 6 a.m. and rode to Bourne to spend the night at the PMC’s Saturday home on the campus of the Massachusetts Maritime Academy. Some of the initial climbs in the foothills of the Berkshires found the newer riders walking to the top. Yet nothing could dampen the spirits of any of the riders and following a massage, a cold beer, and a cup of clam chowder they all looked forward to another early morning start to go over the Bourne Bridge and onto the Cape. The rolling hills of the Cape challenged the riders once again, and a hill or two in Truro reminded everyone that often the struggles in life result in the most worthwhile results.
And of course, the two days of riding made a liar of Sherm. Not only did he break his promise to be a single-year rider, he has also become an avid cyclist. Even at ‘his age,’ he averages more than 2,000 annual miles on his bike and has ridden every PMC since that initial year – with the exception of the 2008 ride which he sat out following hip replacement surgery. “I did help as a volunteer that year,” he is quick to add.
Not to be outdone, Sherm’s wife Beverly stepped up to the challenge in 2001 as well. Scooping clam chowder for arriving cyclists in Bourne, she has become a fixture under the big lunch tent over the last 10 years. A number of family friends and college fraternity brothers have also joined to serve as volunteers over the years.
In 2003, David asked his sister Ruth to ride along. She joined him on the trek from Sturbridge, while Sherm learned the convenience of starting in Wellesley and meeting up with the team near the first day finish in Bourne. David’s son Joshua and Ruth’s son Matthew began volunteering to help and became the third generation to get hooked on the PMC. The Palan-Lopez family now has representatives of three generations supporting the PMC.
But last year’s PMC was extra special. In addition to Ruth’s husband Scott and her daughter Sarah Nina, David’s daughter Zoie Rose joined in and shared the one-day ride from Wellesley to Sharon and back to Wellesley. Three generations sharing the riding experience, struggling together and ultimately persevering together. The 2009 event also saw the addition of Frada’s husband (and fraternity brother to Sherm and David) Ed Rubin.
The 2010 PMC will be Sherm’s 10th, Peter’s 14th, and David’s 20th.
So when David rolls up to the line in August to ride in his 20th PMC, he just may look back at that crazy idea and realize that it wasn’t so crazy after all.