Pedaling with Purpose: One Pan Mass Challenge Team’s Lasting Impact

The 2016 Patriots Platelet Pedalers.

Gary Brodsky and his teammates rise before the sun­­­­­­­­­ and wait. Bicycles by their sides, the atmosphere year after year is exciting and somber, motivating and heart-wrenching. With initials of loved ones lost represented on more than 150 Patriots Platelet Pedalers jerseys, the largest team in the annual Pan Massachusetts Challenge takes off, riding to celebrate life, honor those who have passed and, most importantly, to find a cure.

The annual race with routes ranging from 20 to 192 miles raises millions of dollars for Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, and the Patriots Platelet Pedalers have raised more than $6 million since 2008, with their funds supporting multiple myeloma research and treatment development spearheaded by Dr. Ken Anderson.

Because of this fundraising, Dr. Anderson has been able to research and develop 18 new treatments for multiple myeloma, a bone marrow cancer.

“[Multiple myeloma] was previously untreatable, but due to their commitment and heartfelt support, patients now live three to four times longer,” Dr. Anderson said. “It is now a chronic illness in many patients, and cure is on the horizon.”

The team has existed for 20 years, but it wasn’t until 2008 that the Patriots got involved. Dr. Anderson worked with Robert Kraft to open the Kraft Family Blood Donor Center at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and Brigham and Women’s Hospital. Dr. Anderson also treated Ron Burton, the Patriots first-ever draft pick and the player for whom the team’s community service award is named. The Patriots Platelet Pedalers wear Ron’s №. 22 every year to honor his legacy.

From left to right: Ed Morata, Brian Cain, Yolanda Mazzoni, Robert Kraft, Gary Brodsky, Melinda Mann, Leo Trottier and Josh Kraft at a dinner to celebrate the team at Gillette Stadium in 2015.

To add the Patriots to the existing Platelet Pedalers just made sense.

“It was really more like kismet,” Gary, the captain of the Patriots Platelet Pedalers, said.

While having the Patriots name on the team’s jersey is special and the reason for extra cheers as they speed by crowds at the Pan Mass Challenge, everything the Pedalers do comes back to raising money and saving lives.

Though the 159 members of the 2016 Platelet Pedalers raise money primarily on their own to meet the requirement for the Pan Mass Challenge, the team has consistently raised the bar, even breaking a million dollars. Despite the race taking place in August, fundraising remains open until the 1st of October, and, this year, the Patriots Platelet Pedalers are again on their way to giving back big time.

For Gary and his team, this is their way of affecting positive change.

“As I get older, one of the things that has become very important to me is leaving the world a little bit better off than when I got here. I didn’t go to medical school, and I didn’t become a doctor,” Gary said. “I’m a sales manager for a freight company, but when I talk to Ken Anderson or people at the Pan Mass Challenge, from the teenager who rode one of the routes this year and raised $500 on our team all the way up to our biggest fundraiser who raises consistently near $30,000 a year on her own, we are all true heroes in affecting change and making the world a better place. I’m glad to be a part of it. I’m humbled to be a part of it.”

While members of the team lead full, busy lives, fundraising and training for the race is a significant time commitment, but on the Patriots Platelet Pedalers website, a quote puts things into perspective.

“We ride because we can. We ride for those who cannot. We ride because the training rides and the 192 miles on the two days of the Pan Massachusetts Challenge (PMC) are nothing compared to living with or dying from cancer.”

Gary wrote this when he first signed up for the PMC in 2004, motivated by his 18-year-old cousin who was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. While his cousin, who is now 31, fought and won his battle with cancer, Gary and his team lost three people connected to their ride this year.

“Every year, just losing one person is the drive to go back and do it next year … You kind of go through stages throughout the day of the race where you’re thinking this is so awesome,” Gary said. “I can’t believe how many people are on the side of the road clapping and yelling … But then you’ll pass a kid five or six years old holding a sign that says, ‘Thanks! I’m alive because of you,’ and it all comes back to that. It all comes back to just trying to keep people from dying and just curing these horrible diseases.”

Founding co-captains Gary Brodsky and Barnet Kessel present a check to Dr. Ken Anderson (center) in 2012.

Gary saw one of these signs years ago, and last year as he got to the water stop in Brewster, where one of the kids holding the sign would stand every year, the poster said, “Thanks to you, I’m 17, and I’m riding next year.”

It was a surreal reminder of why they get on the bike every year.

“That’s the reward. That’s the reward, and the reason to keep going is the ones we don’t see anymore,” Gary said.

They keep those who have passed close to them. With the initials of loved ones who passed away after battles with cancer on every jersey, including “MHK” for Myra Kraft, all the motivation the Patriots Platelet Pedalers need to finish the race is on their backs.

For Dr. Anderson, the partnership with this special group of dedicated riders has changed how he has been able to treat his patients, and he is grateful to have the team in his corner.

“I think of the Patriots Platelet Pedalers as the best team one could possibly have against cancer. Like the Patriots and the model of the Kraft family, our team is all about working together to making life better for patients and their families,” Dr. Anderson said. “I am so humbled and inspired by our team and could not be more grateful. Our patients often get to know and thank our team, as well. It is very special to beat cancer together.”

Gary and his team are happy to be a part of it, as well.

“The outgoing president of Dana-Farber, Dr. Ed Benz, has said year after year that when they write the book about how cancer was cured, the Pan Mass Challenge will be on page one,” Gary said. “It’ll be nice to know that the Patriots Platelet Pedalers is part of that.”

Donations to the Patriots Platelet Pedalers can be made online at www.PMC.org/TP0053. For more information or to join the team, please email patriotsplateletpedalers@gmail.com or call team captain Gary Brodsky at 781–812–8377

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