By Dan Guttenplan
---- — AMESBURY — Amesbury track coach Ernie Bissaillon jokes that the hardest part about hosting a fundraiser for Mike Farmer was telling Mike Farmer.
Bissaillon and Newburyport cross-country coach Don Hennigar are organizing a Miles For Mike fundraiser for Farmer, a 20-year Amesbury cross-country coach who has been battling Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma off and on since 2003. The benefit will be a 12-hour relay April 6 at Amesbury High Track. Participants can run, walk, or support the fundraiser in any way they wish.
Bissaillon spearheaded the planning after the indoor season when Farmer, an assistant indoor track coach at Amesbury, missed several practices due to his chemotherapy treatments. Knowing Farmer as a quiet, unassuming man who never wishes to bring attention to himself, Bissaillon waited to tell his assistant about the fundraiser until all of the plans were in place.
“Mike never really wants credit for anything,” Bissaillon said. “About a week ago, I finally told him, and he didn’t give me any resistance. I know he’s appreciative in his own humble way. It’s a chance to give back to someone who has given so much to the kids at Amesbury.”
Farmer has been involved with the Amesbury cross-country, indoor track and outdoor track teams for the better part of the last 20 years, in addition to being a self-employed carpenter. His wife, Gail, works at Cider Hill Farm during the spring, summer and fall. The family’s medical expenses have become exorbitant in recent months due to Mike’s chemotherapy at Mass. General Hospital and two pending bone marrow transplants in the next 10 weeks.
“I really had no idea they were doing this for me,” Farmer said. “I’m not surprised by the support, but I’m surprised about the fundraiser. I appreciate it, but it’s not something I was looking for.”
Farmer says the bone marrow transplants will take place six weeks apart, and he will remain hospitalized for three or four weeks after each procedure. He hopes to return to his role as an assistant coach of the Amesbury outdoor track team in the weeks between his hospitalization.
“I won’t be around much, and I haven’t really been around lately,” Farmer said. “But when I can be around, I will be.”
Hennigar has organized similar all-day fundraisers for the Newburyport track program in the past. Bissaillon came to him for guidance at an indoor track championship meet at the Reggie Lewis Center in February.
“Mike does an awful lot behind the scenes,” Hennigar said. “He helps out kids, and he doesn’t want recognition. He doesn’t go looking for it. We were actually nervous about doing this for him because he’s such an unassuming guy. But the bottom line is he’s a self-employed carpenter who’s been out of work because of this.”
Bissaillon says, over the years, he has seen Farmer work to secure sneakers for athletes who couldn’t afford them. Farmer has provided coolers of water and Gatorade at road meets at his own expense. This winter, he had his appendix removed on a Tuesday, and was back at an Amesbury indoor practice on Wednesday.
“This has hit a nerve for people in the running community,” Bissaillon said. “It’s kind of taken off. Mike’s had this condition for some time. Up until a year ago, he would never say anything about it. It started to become more aggressive, so now it has to be treated. He’s a tough guy, but he doesn’t have an occupation where he can take a sick day. When you’re self-employed, these kind of expenses make it difficult.”
Donations to Miles for Mike can come in the form of contributions and/or pledge money from participants and supporters. Hennigar and Bissaillon have set a goal for each Cape Ann League school to have at least one runner on the track for the entire 12 hours. All of the proceeds from the relay will go to the Farmer family. Checks should be written to Miles for Mike, care of Amesbury Sports Boosters.