Exercising For a Worthy Cause

It was a perfect July morning, warm and clear. After an early breakfast, I put our bikes in the back of the pick-up truck and my wife Kay and I headed into nearby, Hanover, N.H. We were participating in the 33rd Prouty, an annual fund raising event for the Norris Cotton Cancer Center. In 1982, four nurses rode their bicycles 100 miles to honor one of their patients, Audrey Prouty. Their effort raised $4,000 for cancer research.

More than three decades later the event has expanded dramatically to include walking, rowing on the Connecticut River, and golfing in addition to cycling routes of various distances. The number of participants has grown to nearly 6,000 with more than 1,000 volunteers supporting the event. This year’s contribution to the Norris Cotton Cancer Center will be close to 3 million dollars.

The athletic field of the Richmond Middle School just north of Hanover was a kaleidoscope of colorful cycling jerseys, food tents, bicycle racks and porta potties. The excitement and enthusiasm was tempered only by the hundreds of yellow ribbons fluttering from the start/finish fence with the names of loved ones who had succumbed to cancer.

We are accustomed to seeing occasional cyclists on the rural byways of New England, but seeing thousands of bicyclists sharing the road is an impressive sight. Kay and I observed the entire spectrum of two-wheeled transport from ultra-fit racers who resembled Tour de France riders, to teenaged couch potatoes plodding along on their BMX bikes. There were an inspiring number of parents pulling their young kids in tag-a-long attachments. One brave fellow struggled up a hill on an antique high wheel bike that was devoid of gears while his companion kept up an impressive pace on a unicycle.

The SAG stops along the route are a chance to rest your butt, get something to eat and drink, and use the porta potty. But it soon becomes apparent that the SAG stops are social events, riders greeting each other, volunteers encouraging the participants and the riders thanking the volunteers for their support.

On a perfect day (weather-wise) as we had this year, riding the roads of the Upper Connecticut River Valley is a complete joy. While we may take our beautiful, rural scenery for granted when speeding down the interstate in a car, riding a bike provides the opportunity to really drink it in. Before long we were back at the Richmond School, standing our bikes in one of the multitude of racks provided and heading for the food tents.

While many are justifiably proud of the growth of The Prouty through the years, and the total of more than $20 million raised for cancer research, the statistics nationally are even more impressive. According to a recent article in Runner’s World, road races in the USA generated $1.2 billion for charities in 2012. The New York City Marathon recognizes 317 organizations as nonprofit partners, while the Marine Corps Marathon added 30 this year bringing its total to 131.

Since the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society established Team In Training back in 1988, its runners have raised $875 million for the charity. Team In Training has about 39,000 runners participating in 200 events across the nation.

But the gold standard of athletic fundraising events is the Pan-Mass Challenge, a two-day trek the length of Massachusetts, from Stockbridge to Provincetown, created by Billy Starr in 1980. The event annually draws 5,500 cyclists from 36 states and eight countries. This year’s fundraising goal is $40 million, which will be more than half of Dana Farber’s highly successful Jimmy Fund. Since its inception, the Pan-Mass has contributed more than $414 million for cancer research.

In spite of all the conflict and animosity in the news lately, it’s gratifying to recognize that there are still plenty of generous people out there working hard to help others. I’m especially impressed that athletes, from legitimate champions to weekend wanna-bes, are contributing more than a billion dollars annually as they participate in their events. Of course, those of us who have run or cycled to raise money for cancer research or a similar worthy cause, realize that the contribution isn’t all one way.

It’s a wonderful feeling to be a part of an effort that is making a difference.

John Morton

John Morton is a former Olympic biathlete and Nordic ski coach. He lives in Thetford Center, where he designs Nordic ski trails. You can reach him through his website, www.mortontrails.com.

Leave a comment