By Ann Reily
---- — Each member of the Riverside Rockets Pan-Mass Challenge team has a personal connection to the fight against cancer.
Some have lost relatives to the disease, including captain Katherine Brown, who rides as a tribute to her mother, Polly Zevin. Riverside Cycle owner Aaron Millett pedals in honor of his brother, Elliott, and Kevin Murphy takes part in memory of both his parents, Joan and Ed.
Sarah Chapman signed up last year after witnessing mother-in-law Eileen Moccia’s “really tough battle with cancer.”
This year, she is riding a tandem bicycle with her father, Jim, who was diagnosed with leukemia in November and is a first-time participant in the ride.
“It’s been a great help to me,” Jim Chapman said. “It’s really special to ride with my daughter.”
The team of 23 members, who mostly hail from Amesbury and Newburyport, is behind this weekend’s Pan-Merrimack Challenge, which takes off from Michael’s Harborside in Newburyport tomorrow morning. All proceeds from the second annual event will go to Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and The Jimmy Fund.
“We’re all committed to the cause of finding a cure for cancer,” Brown said. “We’re doing what we can to make it better.”
Jim Chapman said he sees it as a chance “to battle the disease I’ve got, but to battle it for everybody.”
The Riverside Rockets team, which formed last year with 13 members and raised $57,800, has committed to raising $100,000 this year. The Pan-Merrimack is its biggest fundraiser, and the members are hoping to attract at least 200 riders. More than 100 had signed up as of yesterday afternoon.
Modeled after the Pan-Mass Challenge but on a smaller scale, the Pan-Merrimack lets bicyclists choose from either a 25-mile or 50-mile scenic route. Participants pay a $50 registration fee and are also required to raise at least $50 in donations.
“This is an opportunity for local people to come out and try an event like this,” Millett said.
Both experienced and inexperienced bicyclists can rest assured in the fact that volunteers will be stationed throughout both courses with water, food and other supplies. There is even something called the SAG wagon, which stands for support and gear, Millett said.
“This is a rather unique event for Newburyport,” Murphy said. “It’s with people from the community.”
Children can get involved in tomorrow’s event, too. Michael’s will have face-painting and temporary tattoos, along with supplies for youngsters to make banners and signs supporting their family members, Sarah Chapman said.
A post-ride lunch and celebration at Michael’s will feature live music from New Hampshire band Todo Bien, which plays a mix of roots, rock and reggae.
Murphy, who is riding in his 15th Pan-Mass Challenge, said his mother’s treatment for colon cancer at Dana-Farber “allowed her to live a quality life” before her death in 2004. It also reaffirmed to him what he’s been fighting for since losing his father to lung cancer 15 years ago.
“Seeing firsthand the labors of the Pan-Mass Challenge made me committed to ride,” he said.
Murphy is part of the Riverside Rockets’ second tandem team, pedaling a bicycle built for two with his sister, Laurie Herndon.
This year, the Rockets are taking part in the Pan-Mass Challenge’s Pedal Partners Program, which has paired them with 2-year-old Wesley Barrett. Wesley is a Derry, N.H., resident being treated for clear cell sarcoma of the kidney at the Jimmy Fund Clinic at Dana-Farber. The team hopes to meet Wesley, who is responding well to his treatment, soon.
The Pan-Mass Challenge, set for Aug. 3 and 4 this year, is an annual bike-a-thon through 46 Massachusetts towns that has raised $375 million for cancer care and research at Dana-Farber.
The Rockets’ next fundraiser is Steppin’ Out for a Cure, a night of dinner, live music, dancing and a fine art auction on July 11 at Phat Cats Bistro in Amesbury.
If you go
What: Second annual Pan-Merrimack Challenge
When: Tomorrow. Registration starts at 8 a.m., the 50-mile ride starts at 9 a.m., and the 25-mile ride starts at 10 a.m. Post-ride celebration begins at 11:30 a.m. with music from Todo Bien, lunch and a raffle.
Where: Begins and ends at Michael’s Harborside, 1 Tournament Wharf, Newburyport
How much: $50 registration fee, plus a $50 fundraising minimum. All proceeds go to Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and The Jimmy Fund.
More information: Online registration is open until 5 p.m. today at www.bikereg.com/Net/18917. Bicyclists can also register at the event, though a $10 late fee will be charged.