Biking in 90-degree heat was an obstacle for some of the thousands of bikers on Saturday in the Pan-Mass Challenge, many of whom cycled the full 111 miles from Sturbridge to Bourne.
But not for Duffy.
The oldest female biker in the PMC at age 79, the Brewster resident has competed in marathons and triathlons for decades, raised more than $200,000 for cancer research and survived breast cancer.
"It's fun at 79 to be treated like just another athlete and not a little old lady," Duffy said. "My friends are horrified I'm riding, but I'm gutsy. And maybe crazy."
This is the first year Duffy has biked in the PMC, she said. She is riding in honor of 8-year-old Bennett Hartley of Brewster, who goes to her church. Hartley has acute lymphoblastic leukemia.
Duffy was among the expansive fleet of cyclists who left Sturbridge at 5:30 a.m. Saturday morning and stayed at Massachusetts Maritime Academy in Buzzards Bay before continuing today another 81 miles to Provincetown.
Hundreds of onlookers and supporters lined the driveway to the college campus Saturday to cheer on the arriving cyclists, some who trickled in as early as 10:30 a.m.
Thanks to corporate sponsors, the PMC provided complimentary massages, medical service, live entertainment, food trucks and a host of activities for riders, said Meredith Beaton-Starr, director of stewardship for the PMC and the wife of the PMC founder, Billy Starr.
Overnight, bikers were to stay on the academy's ship, in the dorms and in tents around campus before heading to Provincetown today to finish the 190-mile journey.
More than 3,000 volunteers donated their time throughout the weekend, including 450 at the academy on Saturday.
An overwhelming corps of volunteers is what makes the PMC special, Beaton-Starr said.
Many other fundraisers do not have businesses donate professional services, such as bike repair and medical attention. And there is true camaraderie between the cyclists and volunteers, she said.
Neighbors Kathy Geiler and Corrie Akstin, both of Buzzards Bay, have volunteered at the PMC for years.
Geiler's sister-in-law is a cancer survivor, which inspired the pair to become involved.
But Geiler said cancer touches everyone. Beaton-Starr agreed. She has worked for the PMC for 24 years, but she said cancer is more real this year than ever.
"Now as I get older, I have three close friends all in their 40s who have been diagnosed with cancer," she said. "It hits home in a different way."
Although everyone has their own personal reasons for being involved in the PMC, Beaton-Starr said it was "humbling" and "very moving" to see people unite against cancer.
"Every single year, the number of cancer survivors riding in the PMC increases, and I think that shows the bar is moving and Dana-Farber really works," she said.
Duffy was in her 40s — around the time her husband, Allen, was diagnosed with leukemia — when she began competing in marathons.
Allen lost his fight with cancer in 1986, only months after seeing his wife cross the finish line at the New York Marathon.
But his memory and her own cancer fight have motivated Duffy to stay fit and raise money for cancer research.
"Knowing what people are going through — I'm a cancer survivor myself — whatever I'm doing is not as hard as what they're going through," Duffy said.
The Pan-Mass Challenge is the largest athletic fundraiser in the country and has raised $338 million for the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute since the ride's start in 1980.
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Article written by Emily Atteberry/Cape Cod Times
August 05, 2012