"I always thought I wouldn't get into cycling until I retired, like my dad did," says Susan Shindler, Wellist's own Operations Lead, mother of Roselyn (4) and Oliver (7) and second-time Pan Mass Challenge rider.
The Pan Mass Challenge (PMC) raises money for cancer research and treatment at Dana-Farber Cancer Institue through an annual two day long bike-a-thon that spans across the state of Massachusetts.
This year’s event is this upcoming weekend, August 1st and 2nd. Approximately 5,500 cyclists aged 18 to 80 will take to their bikes and ride 84 to 190 mile rides all in the name of finding a cure for cancer. Since its inception in 1980, the PMC has contributed $445 million to cancer research and treatment at Dana-Farber, making it the most successful fundraising event for charity in the nation.
Ralph Subbiondo, Susan’s father, was a big time cycler who biked across the Erie Canal and completed the RAGBRAI ride across Iowa as an annual tradition. When he couldn’t cycle outside, Susan writes in her PMC fundraising bio, "he would ride a stationary bike at the gym, drinking coffee and reading a newspaper, but somehow riding with an unfathomable intensity."
In 2010, when Ralph was a few days into his ride across Iowa, he began to feel unwell. Ralph thought he was coming down with the flu, but in reality things were much more serious. Ralph was diagnosed with Acute Myloblastic Leukemia.
He underwent several rounds of chemo and a bone marrow transplant but lost his battle with cancer on July 9, 2011, the day before Susan’s second child, Roselyn, was born. Roselyn’s name is symbolic for Susan and her husband David, and it is a combination of Ralph’s name and David’s mother’s name, Lynn, who died of cancer in 2005.
“I miss my dad every day,” Susan says. Even at Wellist, Ralph is here. When Susan makes a test Wellist profile, she always makes it for the same user--Ralph Subbiondo. And she always makes sure to save the things he loved, picking out vendors like a saluminaria in the North End specializing in prosciutto instead of a regular old grocery store. Even though four years have gone by since Ralph’s passing, he is still at the forefront of Susan’s mind.
One of Susan’s closest and most important friendships with a woman named Laura Acosta was solidified over the shared pain of losing a father to cancer. It was Laura who introduced Susan to the PMC, after Laura rode in 2012 in memory of her father.
After seeing Laura ride in the PMC, Susan decided that rather than waiting to retire, it was her time to ride.
“I started from scratch,” Susan says, “I had to go out and buy a bike.” Susan began a training schedule, taking spinning classes at the gym and spending hours training on Toronto’s bike paths until she was ready for the two-day long, 163 mile ride. Susan’s ride was one of the longer ones, beginning in Wellesley and ending in Provincetown.
The ride isn’t always easy. “Cape Cod is surprisingly hilly," Susan ruefully laughs. The first day is tough, but the second day is tougher after a night of sleeping in a tent and getting back on the bike with sore legs.
But for Susan, the PMC is so much more than a bike ride; it’s a way for her to reconnect with her father. “I imagine all the rides we could have done together” Susan says, "so I feel like we’re riding together."
There is a deep emotional component in participating in the PMC. “You see a lot of people with...deep personal stories. It tends to be personal and emotional for everyone there,” Susan smiles, “There’s a lot of camaraderie.”
The streets are lined with people cheering and supporting the riders. "When people cheer for me, I ring my little bell…It’s very motivating” Susan says.
After Susan’s first ride, she knew she wanted to participate in the PMC again. “This year, it’s a little harder,” she admits, which makes sense, because now Susan is working full time at Wellist while being a caring and involved mother and wife. She’s still putting in the hours to train, squeezing in training sessions on her basement stationary bike in between long days of product reviews at work and birthday parties for her children at home.
But at the end of her busy day, Susan puts in the extra hours of training and fundraising because she believes in the PMC. She finds comfort, support and community surrounded by the thousands of people who come together to honor, to remember and to fight for a cure.
At Wellist, we are deeply proud of Susan and supportive of her ride. Wellist has taken up the 6:30 AM Sunday morning shift at the water station in Medfield so if you'll be at the PMC, keep your eyes peeled for us. If you’d like to see Susan’s bio on why she rides, click here.
[header image courtesy of pmc.org]