After 13 years riding the annual 192-mile Pan-Massachusetts Challenge bike-a-thon, Westbrook resident Bil Chase doesn’t view the event as a token charity ride. In fact, he never did.

Chase wasn’t an avid cyclist before his first ride in 1994 and didn’t even own a bike then. Today, he gets on his bike only to train for the Pan-Mass ride.

He does it because a friend whose 4-year-old daughter, Kassie Murray, was diagnosed with brain cancer asked Chase to ride with him in 1994. He said yes, and he’s been doing it every year since.

The Pan-Massachusetts Challenge, which will take place over this Friday, Saturday and Sunday, is considered the nation’s original and largest bike-a-thon for charity. Today it raises more than any other athletic fundraising event in the country, according to Karen Cummings, spokeswoman for the Jimmy Fund, a foundation that raises money for cancer research and benefits from the race.

The challenge now has several routes that riders can take because so many people participate in the ride. The route Chase has always taken and will take again is the original route reserved for perennial riders, which travels 192 miles from Sturbridge to Provincetown, Mass. He said he’ll ride about 110 miles the first day and about 80 the second, as always.

Despite the long distance, Chase said most of the riders are in their mid-40s, although they range from 15 to 80 years old. He said it’s not a race, and it’s not about winning anything or getting recognition. Chase said he probably doesn’t train as hard as he should, but it’s not the important thing – it’s just about helping people with cancer. He said the reason he does the ride is because he was asked to so many years ago and because cancer has touched his life directly.

“I keep waiting for a year to go by when no one I know gets cancer or dies from cancer,” he said. “That hasn’t happened yet.”

Along with Kassie Murray, daughter of his friend Jim Murray, who is still alive, there are always others who inspire Chase to keep doing the ride, he said. Along the route, he said people line the road to cheer the riders on, many of whom have been afflicted with or affected by cancer.

“It still really hits me when there’s a small child with a sign that says, ‘I’m alive because of you,'” said Chase.

“It really is amazing how charged you get talking to people, hearing their stories,” he said. Many of the people riding are cancer survivors themselves. Last year, 189 of the riders were survivors, Chase said.

“Unfortunately, everyone has a connection to cancer in some way,” said Pan-Massachusetts Founder and Executive Director Billy Starr. “The PMC is one weekend a year when people work in harmony toward a collective goal – a cancer-free world.”

One of the people who most inspire Chase to do the ride is a friend of his wife’s who is recovering from breast cancer. Cindy Bishop is a fifth-grade teacher at the Village School in Gorham, where his wife, Deana Chase, teaches as well.

Bishop was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1997 and went through a series of chemotherapy and radiation treatments, coupled with surgeries. After a number of attempts to eradicate the disease, the cancer entered her lymph nodes and was considered in the final stage.

In May 1998, Bishop was chosen by lottery to participate in trial runs of an experimental drug not yet approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. The trial was for stage-four patients only, and only three people were chosen each month to enter the trial. Her name was drawn in May 1998 after six months of waiting.

From May to October that year Bishop traveled to Beth Israel Medical Center in Boston once a week for treatment. A combination of a chemotherapy round to weaken the cancer cells and receiving the experimental drug herceptin caused the cancer to go into remission within weeks. Bishop has been on the drug ever since and has remained cancer-free.

Chase said Bishop is his biggest inspiration for doing the Pan-Massachusetts Challenge because of everything she’s endured. “She’s been through so much,” he said.

In turn, Bishop admires Chase for doing the ride. “He continues to amaze me by how much focus he has on the ride,” she said. “He’s a wonderful person to continue to stay focused on that.”

The conviction Chase feels about the ride is evident in his eyes when he talks about it. He knows he’s doing something worthwhile and important to him.

“Everyone has their own personal reasons for riding,” he said.

And his first inspiration is still one of his biggest. Chase said he came into Provincetown at the end of the race the fourth year he rode it, and waiting for him was Kassie Murray, eight years old and recovering from cancer, wearing a big smile on her face.

“That makes you realize the impact it has. She wouldn’t have been there if it weren’t for Dana-Farber,” he said.

The ride will begin with opening ceremonies on Friday, and on Saturday Chase will head out of Sturbridge for the 192-mile trek. Donations may still be made to the Jimmy Fund until October, according to Chase, online at PMC.org (rider number BC0017) or by check to PMC-Jimmy Fund at Chase’s address of 69 Grandview Drive, Westbrook, 04092.


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