By Mac Cerullo
---- — AMESBURY – A local team of cyclists raised more than $300,000 for lung cancer research at the Pan-Mass Challenge this past year, and this year Team Lungstrong hopes to top that figure and achieve a major milestone.
“We’d like to raise at least $350,000, because this is going to be our fifth year as a team, and with $350,000 it will bring a total of us raising for Dana-Farber’s lung cancer research in five years to over $1 million,” said Diane Legg, the team’s founder. “So that’s really exciting.”
Team Lungstrong is made up of more than 60 riders, including many who are from Amesbury and the surrounding communities, and almost all of them have been impacted by lung cancer in some way.
Legg, for instance, is an Amesbury resident that has lived with lung cancer for nine years. Following her diagnosis, she became an outspoken advocate for lung cancer awareness, and she founded Team Lungstrong a year after her husband David rode in the PMC for the first time to honor her and another friend who had recently succumbed to lung cancer.
In the team’s first year in 2010, five riders combined to raise $36,000, and since then the team has grown to include 60 members who have collectively raised nearly $700,000. This year the team hopes to ride 75 members deep, and Legg is encouraging anyone who has been touched by lung cancer in the past time join.
“We had the most amazing experience of our life,” said Heather King, a friend of Legg’s and also an Amesbury resident who rode with Team Lungstrong for the first time last summer. “It’s not just supporting Diane, when you’re on that ride you meet thousands of people that have a similar story.”
All of the money raised by Team Lungstrong goes directly to Dana-Farber for lung cancer research, and Legg said that since the funds are unrestricted, it allows the institute to conduct experimental studies that U.S. government grants normally wouldn’t cover.
Besides simply raising money, one of the team’s other main goals is trying to help eliminate the stigma that is associated with lung cancer and smoking. Laurie Irwin, another Amesbury resident and team member, said she remembers almost feeling the need to point out that her father was a smoker after her died of lung cancer.
“Even if smoking is the cause of lung cancer, who cares,” Legg said. “The patient has a disease that needs to be treated, and it needs to be understood. Smoking is the leading cause of cardiovascular disease, or heart attacks, and are we stigmatizing people who have a heart attack and blaming it on smoking? No, never.”
Generally speaking, each member of Team Lungstrong typically raises around $5,000, though there are some who raise more and others left. Fundraising efforts extend beyond the PMC itself, as Team Lungstrong will also host a 5K race and an event at the Blue Ocean Music Hall in Salisbury. King added that sponsorships are welcome and any business that chooses to sign on can get its name printed on their jerseys.
This year’s PMC is set for Aug. 2 and 3, and participants will have a number of different course options in which to ride. For more information, or to register to ride, visit pmc.org.