By Ann Reily
---- — Seven years ago, Susanne Hefel James’ 5-year-old son was sick in the hospital when she made him a promise.
“I told him, ‘I’ll run a marathon if you pull through this,’” said James, an Amesbury resident who had never run more than 2 miles in her life.
Paul James, who had just been diagnosed with leukemia, told her they had a deal.
When Paul was transferred from Children’s Hospital Boston to the Jimmy Fund Clinic at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, his mother saw a poster for the Pan-Mass Challenge and decided that a bike-a-thon might be easier to conquer than a marathon.
It was then that Team Paul was born, with James participating in her first PMC that summer and riding every year since.
Since then, the team has had as many 16 bicyclists in the challenge. This year, three members will take on the two-day route from Wellesley to Provincetown on Aug. 2 and 3.
And Paul is now a healthy 12-year-old with plans to ride in the PMC as soon as he’s old enough. His younger brother, Noah, 10, also hopes to participate in the future.
Three years ago, James changed the name of the team to Team Paul & Eve, to include the then-2-year-old daughter of her friend Tammy Dayton of Concord. Eve had just been diagnosed with Ewing’s sarcoma, a bone cancer that mainly affects children.
Today, Eve Dayton is also in remission, and Team Paul & Eve is gearing up for its big fundraiser, the Waterfront Spin-a-thon on Saturday, May 17, in Newburyport.
Twenty-five stationary bikes, donated by Fuel Training Studio and the YWCA, will be set up on the waterfront, with six instructors offering 50-minute classes from 7 a.m. to 1 p.m. A live DJ will play music, and Orange Leaf will provide free frozen yogurt.
Lola Pelletier of Amesbury is a retired spin instructor who joined Team Paul & Eve three years ago and will teach the last class on Saturday. She is also an organizer of the spin-a-thon, which was held for the first time last year.
“It’s fun,” she said. “I think people like the crowd. We’ve gotten really good community support.”
Pelletier is also riding in the PMC with James and a friend from Boston, Nicole Curran. Team Paul & Eve has contributed more than $130,000 to The Jimmy Fund over the past seven years, and the three women hope to raise $20,000 this year. All money raised for the PMC supports cancer research and care.
Also teaching a class at the spin-a-thon for the second year is Melissa O’Brien, an instructor at Fuel Training Studio and co-owner of Massage Only, both in Newburyport.
“It’s for a wonderful cause,” said O’Brien, who remembers that last year’s event was held on an “extremely hot” day. “Even with the heat last year, everyone was on board. There’s a ton of people walking by and listening to the music and kids dancing.”
O’Brien said she loves the idea of a spin-a-thon because it’s something that everyone can participate in.
“The beauty of spin is every fitness level can do it,” she said. “A lot of people do it because it’s a fundraiser. It’s for those two special kids.”
Paul and Noah plan to hop on the bikes during the fundraiser, too. They and their friends will also sell cookies and lemonade, as well as roam the boardwalk to sell raffle tickets offering the chance to win a number of gift certificates donated by local businesses.
“It’s really nice to see everyone on the bikes having fun,” Noah said.
“It’s great to see so many people united for one cause,” said Paul, who has maintained an upbeat attitude throughout the years since his diagnosis. He underwent 21/2 years of treatment before he was given a clean bill of health.
“Even during chemo, it’s important to stay positive,” he said, adding that he would force himself to take a walk and do other activities even when he had no energy. “As long as you keep forging ahead, it works out OK.”
“He is the greatest soul,” O’Brien said of Paul. “He is so kind.”
Although she is grateful that both Paul and Eve are doing so well now, James said the team members continue to ride in support of other children who are still fighting cancer or who have yet to be diagnosed, and for everyone affected by the disease.
“We’re not just riding for Paul and Eve,” she said. “There’s so many reasons why we ride.”
If you go
What: Team Paul & Eve Waterfront Spin-a-thon
When: Saturday, May 17, 7 a.m. to 1 p.m.
Where: Newburyport waterfront, behind Not Your Average Joe’s in Market Square
How much: $50 per spin class, which will be held every hour on the hour. All proceeds go to The Jimmy Fund, and donations are tax-deductible.
More information: To sign up for a session, visit www.active.com and search for Team Paul & Eve. Registrations will be taken up until midnight the day before, and people can also sign up on the day of the event, if bikes are still available. To donate to the PMC ride, visit www.pmc.org/profile/TP0136.