WEST NEWBURY — It began as just a simple idea in 1980 before West Newbury’s Amy Bresky and a few others volunteered to help to make it a reality. Today, the Pan-Mass Challenge is the single-largest athletic fundraising event in the country and has raised over $414 million for the Dana Farber Cancer Institute.
“Billy Starr started the Pan-Mass Challenge, and he was my sister’s boyfriend at the time,” Bresky said. “He said he had this idea and he wanted some help with it; he just went around asking people and I said I would help. We had five volunteers and 39 riders that first year — there was no model to follow, we just made it up as we went along.”
At 27 years old, Bresky was the event’s first volunteer and did whatever was necessary to make the ride as successful as possible — including making chicken salad for the riders and handing out water bottles. Now 61, it’s often fun for Bresky to think back on what the event once was — and just how much it has grown.
“I love it,” she said. “It’s amazing. My job now, I’m just a small cog in a huge wheel. It’s amazing to see how it’s developed and it’s a remarkable thing to see where it has gone. I’ll always be thrilled to have been a big part of the whole journey. I can say it’s one of the things I’ll always be most proud of.”
At last year’s event, 3,300 volunteers and 5,533 riders took part in the effort, resulting in $39 million for the Jimmy Fund. Today, Bresky splits her time between West Newbury and Southern Pines, N.C., though she continues to volunteer, behind-the-scenes, annually.
“I’m not there during the event anymore,” she said. “There are thousands of people who stay overnight at Massachusetts Maritime Academy — the overnight stop between day one and two. We use all six of their dorm buildings, as well as a big training vessel that holds 700 people. When riders arrive, they’re tired and confused in a new place. I come in days before with three or four people and we label the whole place so they can find their way around and not be confused.”