Monday, August 8, 2011

Pan Mass Challenge Recap

Dear friends, donors, countrymen: I more than survived the Pan Mass Challenge this weekend, and I'm already looking forward to doing it again next year.  The experience brought together so many strands.  Let's start with the notion of community and common purpose in our incredibly divided country, personified by Senators John Kerry and Scott Brown flanking Lance Armstrong on the starting line:

As I've written before, cancer, for all of its evils and heartaches, creates this sort of community.  I'll remember the crowds who lined the roads, ringing cowbells, yelling thank you to me hundreds of times, putting up photos of loved ones who are fighting cancer and photos of remembrance for those who were left behind.  Here are a few images caught by my friend Lauren Hefferon, with whom I had the pleasure of sharing the road for the first 10 miles or so on Sunday:

For those of you not following my exploits on Facebook, my day started at 3:45 Saturday morning.  Kath and I woke up, although in my case, I really didn't sleep at all because I was so wired.  We were in the car and on the road to Sturbridge by 4:15.  I drank a bottle of liquid yogurt to load up on carbs and protein in an easily digestible form, and we arrived in the parking lot of the Super 8 in Sturbridge at 5:00.  I quickly put on sunscreen, loaded up my bike with four 24-ounce bottles of HEED, filled my pockets with food and spare headsweats.  By 5:25, I was on the road, hopping onto the back of the lead pack as they swept past the hotel entrance onto Rt. 20 and the hills of central Mass.

The first 10 miles did feature a few climbs, but honestly, they weren't nearly as tough as they were made out to be, and the way the course worked, we were doing far more descending than ascending.  My only concern was hitting speeds in excess of 45 mph on some of the downhills with other riders just a foot off of either wheel.  I love going fast down the hills, but I prefer to do it without company.  At any rate, by the time we hit the first rest stop, about 22 miles into the ride, I was averaging a stunning 20 mph, about 2 mph faster than my goal for the day.  My main fear was that I'd burn all of my candles going out too fast and have nothing for the last stretch.  I settled down into a nice rhythm for the next 45 miles or so, riding in pacelines with 15 or 20 other riders so that we could draft off of each other and take turns pulling up front.  Even riding what I thought was a more conservative pace, I was still topping 19 mph when we pulled into the rest area at Dighton-Rehoboth H.S. at about mile 75.

The last 35 miles were ridden mostly on adrenaline, fueled by the free Del's Lemonade handed out at the Dighton-Rehoboth rest stop, and a determination to just be done with the ride.  I got in with a great group of riders, and we pulled each other nearly to the end.  A few got dropped as we hit brutal headwinds the last 5 miles into Bourne, where a steady southwest wind of over 20 knots hit us.  By 1:15, I was happily greeting Kathleen and Lucy, who were waiting at the finish line.  Final time 5:40:37 over 108.5 miles for an average speed of 19 mph.  

I could get used to courses that start at 1,000 feet and finish at sea level.  A quick, ill-advised hamburger and sip of beer, and I was on my way to my inlaws in Falmouth for a wonderful dinner with friends and a much better night's sleep than Friday night.

It rained cats and dogs Saturday night, and I felt badly for my fellow riders sleeping in tents at Mass Maritime.  I heard that the sound of wind howling over the campus kept most of the folks up all night,except perhaps those who had overindulged in the free Harpoon Beer.  Being the Boy Scout that I am, I was prepared for the change in weather and switched to my rain bike, which is slightly heavier, but not nearly as valuable, for Sunday's ride, so I didn't worry about trashing the drive train.  I attached a lightweight fender to the seatpost to keep water off of my butt for the ride, put neoprene "booties" over my cycling shoes, a gortex cover on my helmet, and a neon yellow cycling jacket, and I was ready to go.

I met the riders coming off the MMA campus at the Bourne rotary, and we followed a course up the Cape Cod Canal before cutting east, up the Cape Cod Bay side of the Cape, from Sandwich to Barnstable, Dennis, Yarmouth, Brewster and so forth.  Miraculously, the rain cut out almost immediately after we hit the canal, and I rolled up my jacket and helmet cover and stuffed them into my shirt pockets.  The roads were slick, and I was happy for the fender on my back wheel and not to be obsessing about ruining my good bike.  Unfortunately, there were a lot of crashes on the road, mostly behind me among the less experienced riders.  Here's a laconic medical report from PMC Founder Billy Starr in an email today:

Medical Report: Weekend hospital visits: 21
Saturday: 9 riders plus 2 volunteers - all released on Saturday
.               7 bike collisions
.               1 heart evaluation
.               1 dehydration

Sunday 10 riders
.               1 transfer to Boston for hip fracture
.               7 bike falls - all released
.               2 concussions - both released

I was very happy to see Kathleen and Lucy (our dog) waiting for me with friends Geraldine and Christophe from France at mile 32 in Brewster.  It's great to see friends waiting for you at the finish, but seeing them along the route is even better.

Our French friends were very moved by the experience, and Christophe is making noises about coming back from France next year to ride with me.  Allez!

Their son (and Kathleen's godson), Auguste, got to be part of a fabulous group of spectators at Cape Cod Sea Camps who form a cheering section known to the riders as "The Hedge," about 250 kids screaming and holding placards along a hedgerow on the side of Rt. 6A in Brewster.  Wonderful stuff.

So we had a powerful tailwind when we turned the corner at the elbow of the Cape around Nickerson State Park and flew up to Provincetown with nary a sidelong glance at the ocean views in Wellfleet.  Once again, the headwinds came up with a vengeance for the last five miles and we limped into Provincetown a bit the worse for wear.  Final stats for day two: 73.63 miles in 3:59:31 for an average speed of 18.4 mph--not too shabby for a second long-distance day in the weather conditions we encountered.  By 10:15, I was done and eating some Legal Seafoods chowder while I waited for poor Kathleen to find some parking anywhere in Provincetown.  Luckily, she was driving my car, which as many of you know, is blessed with "Parking Karma," and she found a metered spot right in the middle of town.  

Lance Armstrong wrote about his cancer experience that "It's Not About The Bike," and that is mostly true.  My big memories of this weekend will be the incredible support, the moving images of people touched by this disease like the father who rode all 192 miles on a tandem with an empty backseat in memory of his son, and the sense of community and camaraderie that these events create.  We could use a lot more of that in our world today.

But for me personally, it IS about the bike too.  Two and half years ago, I was in an isolation ward on the 14th floor of the Ellison Building at Mass General riding an in-room exercise bike and winded by the slightest exertion.  To be able to meet the challenge of the Pan Mass, and if I do say so myself, KICK ITS BUTT, is a testimony to what all this research is for--so that cancer doesn't have to be a terminal diagnosis, but a challenge to face and overcome so that we can turn our attention back to the challenges of living rather than the challenges of dying.

Thank you one and all for your generosity of spirit and of purse.  Your support was felt every mile and every turn of the pedals.  Together we raised over $5,000 for cancer research.  You each were part of the victory of finishing in Provincetown.



Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Coverage of my 15 minutes of Fame at PMC Night at Fenway

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By Krista Kano

Fenway Park- With a ukulele version of “Somewhere over the Rainbow” playing over the loudspeakers, Stephen Pratt of Dover and 31 other cancer survivors rode their bikes from centerfield around Fenway Park’s warning track prior to Saturday’s baseball game between the Red Sox and Milwaukee Brewers. They were greeted by a standing ovation from a crowd already excited from the Boston Bruins’ Stanley Cup parade earlier in the day. 
The riders made their way to home plate and stood next to their bikes while fellow rider and cancer survivor Denise DeSimone sang the national anthem.

Saturday was Pan Massachusetts Challenge Day at Fenway Park.

In October 2008, Pratt was diagnosed with mantel cell lymphoma, a cancer of the B-cells that make antibodies. Of the 48 different kinds of lymphoma, mantel cell is the second rarest form, with only 3,000 cases known in the world.

Pratt ran cross country during college. After postgraduation knee problems, he borrowed a friend’s old bike and within a year was a licensed United States Cycling Federation Rider. Pratt continued to ride competitively into his early 30s and always stayed healthy. He didn’t seem to fit the bill for a cancer that typically attacks people between the ages of 70-79.

Even with the diagnosis, there was hope. 

“Cutting-edge research saved my life,” said Pratt. “This kind of cancer was considered universally fatal until literally two weeks before my diagnosis.”

Pratt followed the Nordic Regimen, consisting of seven rounds of high-dose chemotherapy and an autologous bone marrow transplant, a system in which stem cells are taken from the patient before high doses of chemotherapy and are replanted after treatment. 

During treatment, Pratt trained for his first PMC race.

Today, Pratt has been in remission for 27 months and counting. He is currently training for his third PMC race. 

The Fenway PMC Day marks the Red Sox’ ninth year as a presenting sponsor of the PMC, an organization that since its founding in 1980 has raised $303 million. This year’s cyclists, age 13-87 hailing from 34 states and six different countries, will chose from 11 different routes ranging from 25 to 192 miles. As the most lucrative single fundraising event in the country, the PMC this year hopes to raise $34 million. 

Pratt hopes to contribute $5,000 to the cause. He is training six days a week for 10 weeks, riding between 140 and 210 miles per week at an average rate of 19 miles per hour to prepare for his 192-mile ride from Sturbridge to Provincetown. The night before the challenge, he’ll load up on carbohydrates and water and will stay away from caffeine and alcohol. 

“The best way I can describe it is like a fuel line on a car. You can fill up the gas tank, but you have to keep the fuel line going. If you wait to eat until you’re thirsty or hungry, you’re already dead,” said the experienced rider who has also participated in Livestrong rides. 

But for Pratt, it’s not about the bike.

“There are a million things I could do to prove I’m a great cyclist. That’s not what this is about,” he said.

To contribute to Pratt’s ride, visit

Read more: Dover resident takes cancer fight into high gear at Fenway Park - Dover, MA - Dover-Sherborn Press

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Support My Ride Against Cancer: The 192-mile Pan Mass Challenge!

Dear Friends: As many of you know, 30 months ago, I received what I thought at the time was devastating news: I had cancer, specifically, mantle cell lymphoma, one of the rarest forms of the disease, with only 3,000 cases worldwide and fairly grim survival rates.  I wrote many of you an email with the news, aptly titled, “A Big Hill To Climb.”  Thanks to an innovative new treatment known as The Nordic Regime, an incredible medical team, a strong and loving wife, and all of you amazing friends, I am lucky enough to be writing you today.  I’ve been cancer free since mid-way through my seven rounds of chemo and bone marrow transplant.  I don’t use words like survivor, but don’t think I don’t thank my lucky stars every day that I wake up and think about getting on the bike to train instead of getting in the car to go to chemo or get another blood test or scan.

Many of you were kind enough to sponsor me as I trained and rode in the 100-mile Livestrong Challenge in Philadelphia last August.  With your help, I raised nearly $5,000 to fund Livestrong’s efforts to support the 28 million people affected by cancer.  This year, I’ve decided to kick it up a notch, and will tackle the legendary Pan Mass Challenge, a 192-mile, two-day bike ride from Sturbridge to Provincetown.  Day one takes me 111 miles from Sturbridge to Bourne; Day Two should be a relatively flat 79 miles from Bourne to P’Town.

I view this ride as a celebration of the blessings I’ve received, of my good health and good luck, and a giant thank you to the doctors, the hospitals, the researchers, and especially the NURSES, who were the source of vital encouragement, support, and inspiration to Kathleen and me throughout my treatment and the aftermath.  100 percent of funds raised by the ride go to the Dana Farber Cancer Institute, one of the leading research institutions in the world.  I wouldn’t be alive today if it weren’t for cutting edge research and many people who gave their lives in research trials so that an effective treatement could be found.

So on August 6th, I’ll be getting up at the crack of dawn to drive west to Sturbridge so that I can pedal East to the Cape.  I’ll sleep at my in-laws (thanks Mo & Fou!) in Falmouth and drive over to Bourne on the 7th, so that I can torture myself all over again by riding to from Bourne to the tip of the Cape.  As most of you know, I ride year-round, but I’ll start training in earnest on Memorial Day, covering 100-200 miles a week over 10 weeks to get ready.

I’ll do the training.  I’d like to ask you to do one thing to help me out: Make a donation, of any amount, to support my ride.  You can give $5 or $50 or any amount that suits you, but please let me know that you’re right there with me as I climb 2,500 feet of hills that are still nothing compared to the hills I had to climb 30 months ago.

Making a contribution is easy.  You can go to my PMC Web Page and donate directly there.  If you prefer to write a check or if you have matching gifts available through your employer, you can make a check out to “Pan Mass Challenge” with “Stephen Pratt 72947-5” in the memo, and mail it to me at 42 Glen St., Dover, MA 02030.

Thank you for all that you’ve done already to support me getting this far.  Anything you can give will help others like me and will help me make the most of the incredible gift that a second chance at life represents.



PS: Apologies if you get this more than once due to cross-posting…