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Bellingham Native Helping Dana Farber Because He Can

By Christopher Tremblay,

Staff Sports Writer

The Pan Mass Challenge (PMC) is a Massachusetts based bike-a-thon that raises more money than any other single athletic fundraising event in the country. The two-day event that takes place during the first week of August funds the Dana Farber Cancer Institute, the world leader in adult and pediatric cancer treatment and research. 

After losing his mother to melanoma at the age of 49, Billy Starr organized the event in 1980 with 36 riders and 10 volunteers. Although many got lost during that inaugural ride, they still accomplished what they set out to do – raise funds for cancer research, $10, 200 that year. Today, the PMC boasts more than 6,800 riders and another 300 volunteers having raised $831 million for the Dana Farber Jimmy Fund.

Bellingham’s Jeff Scornavacca rode in his 19th PMC this year. While many riders get involved with the PMC when a friend or loved one succumbs to cancer, Scornavacca didn’t have anyone affected by the disease when he first jumped on his bike to raise money for the trek from Sturbridge to Wellesley. 

“I had a friend who had been riding for many years, and she suggested I get involved,” the Bellingham resident said. “I had seen people going through cancer diagnosis, so I thought that this would be a good idea.”

Scornavacca had done his fair share of distance biking riding before taking on the two-day event, so he was prepared for the mileage he was getting himself into.

“Bike riding just so happened to be a sport that I was involved in, so it wasn’t a big deal to me,” Scornavacca said. “It’s the fundraising that has been a bit of a challenge, but I’ve been lucky enough to have a group of people who have been gracious with their donations year after year allowing me to reach Heavy Hitter status for 15 of my 19 years.”

Scornavacca has raised $152,000 for the Dana Farber Cancer Institute since he first joined the cause in 2004. During his inaugural ride, he was able to complete the two-day event with his riding team, The Minuteman Road Club. Through the years, he has also gotten to ride along side of some celebrities, such as Tour de France star Lance Armstrong. 

Riding from Sturbridge each year, Scornavacca knows that the route will take him through his hometown of Bellingham, and he always tries to be the first person through the town. While he hasn’t ben able to do it on a regular basis, the Bellingham native has been able to do it three times over his first 18 years.

One of the more exciting parts of the ride is the people and volunteers that line the routes with water and well wishes for the riders.

“It’s absolutely amazing. The ride is broken up into neighborhoods where people like to do different things to show their support,” he said. “It’s a great feeling knowing that you’ve done a lot of work and preparation for this event, and then you get on your bike and begin riding, people are everywhere and so appreciative. I’ve been doing this so long that I’ve watched a lot of kids along the way grow up over the years.”

Scornavacca also acknowledged the support of all the local police departments that keep the event moving at a steady pace while keeping them safe.

Over his numerous years riding the PMC, Scornavacca has been lucky that, for the most part, he has not had to deal with harsh weather over the weekend ride.

“It was a running joke that it never rained on the PMC until it did; that Saturday was a totally wash out, but Sunday had some breaks in the sky. You were pretty much drenched by the 30th mile, so you figured you couldn’t get any wetter,” he said. “We also had a couple of incredibly hot days as well over the years. It seemed to get hotter the closer you got to Bourne, but if you just keep on riding your body temperature will stay cool and you’ll be ok.”

Scornavacca, since he began as a PMC rider, has since lost an aunt to the deadly disease, and he has a friend who continues to battle. 

“I had visited my friend on couple occasions where, when I left him, I was convinced that it would be the last time that I would see him, but the people at Dana Farber continue to do amazing things, and he’s still alive,” Scornavacca said. “He is one of the main reasons that I keep on riding. I know that I can raise the money and do the mileage so it’s all about seeing the results. Dana Farber is so inspiring.”

The Dana Farber Cancer Institute can only do as much research as the funds they receive, and if not for people like Jeff Scornavacca raising those donations for the PMC, they wouldn’t have much to go on.

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