Grand Circle Associates Cycle to Help Change—and Prolong—Lives
There was an 86-year-old man who had to be helped off his bike—but vowed, "I will die riding, even if I can't walk." There was a rider with one leg on a bicycle with no handicap features. There were men, women, and children wearing T-shirts commemorating a loved one who was fighting cancer—or who had lost the battle. And there were nine Grand Circle Corporation cyclists, with another 30 associates standing ready to cheer them on.
It was the Pan-Massachusetts Challenge® (PMC), the nation's original fundraising bike-a-thon. Since its launch in 1980, this annual long-distance bicycling challenge has contributed $270 million to lifesaving cancer research and treatment at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute through its Jimmy Fund. Since 2007, 100% of donations raised by the riders has gone directly to cancer research and treatment.
Raising the Bar for the Bicyclists
The Community Service team at Grand Circle's Boston headquarters has been a long-time supporter of the PMC, and for this year's ride, which took place on August 7 and 8, they set their most ambitious goal ever for any community service event in Grand Circle Foundation history: $30,000—an increase of more than one-third over the $22,000 raised in 2009.
To achieve this daunting sum, a fundraising drive was organized by Grand Circle associates Gabe Mears and Lauren Fabrizio, with the assistance of eleven "floor captains" with offices throughout the headquarters building. In addition, Finance Specialist Kim Casagrande volunteered to keep track of the monies raised. Grand Circle Foundation pledged to match associate donations of $25 or more.
Putting the Fun in Fundraising
From the get-go, it was clear that the traditional fundraising method of simply asking associates to contribute would not be sufficient to reach the goal. So, the team got creative … and organized a hot-dog eating contest. Fourteen eaters lobbied their colleagues for pledges—either per hot dog eaten or as a lump sum—as they vied to see who could eat the most hot dogs in a three-minute stretch. Nearly $6,000 was raised. An impressive sum, but still short of the goal.
Next, a raffle was held, in which the floor captains encouraged associates to donate their time and/or talent to help raise funds. In all, 27 prizes were raffled off, ranging from boat rides, massages, and baseball tickets, to handmade jewelry, a photography lesson, and homemade ice cream. The raffle "brought it over the top," according to Lauren Fabrizio, Grand Circle Foundation Coordinator.
It was on to the ride itself.
A Tumultuous Ride, On and Off the Bike
The PMC's complete, two-day itinerary traverses 192 miles over six different routes, crossing through 46 Massachusetts towns along the way. Shorter routes are also available, with varying mileages and time commitments.
In addition to those who were riding in the PMC, many members of Grand Circle's Boston Community Service team wanted to remain active in the event. So, they opted to sponsor their first-ever water stop, in Sharon, Mass. Located toward the end of the PMC route, it was a place where riders were sorely in need of refreshment.
But in true Grand Circle style, simply setting out cups of water for the riders wasn't enough the enthusiastic team members. "We wanted to make it fun," says Lauren.
An international theme was a natural for the travel company. Many of the 30 associates who manned the water stop arrived in costume, while others took advantage of hats and noisemakers that were provided. Scores of balloons were inflated from the rented helium tank, tables were adorned with grass skirts and Aztec tapestries, and a DJ played an eclectic assortment of international music.
"At first, people just trickled in, then suddenly it was packed," Lauren recalls. "People were laughing and crying." A rush of emotion consumed everyone, as riders and supporters alike gathered to celebrate the hope that a cure would one day be found.
As a result of this year's PMC, that hope is $31 million closer to being realized. Grand Circle alone shattered its goal, raising $36,050, including $10,000 of Foundation matching funds.
Changing Lives by Saving Lives
In the end, however, the spirit of the PMC isn't about the money; it's about the people whose lives are touched by the disease. Chris Zigmont, Grand Circle's Sr. Vice President/Controller, discovered the true meaning of participating in the event as he crested a hill during his ride. Among the onlookers cheering the cyclists along was a man who looked him in the eye and told him that, though he had been supporting the riders for 12 years, this year meant the most to him because his wife had been diagnosed with cancer during the past year. The spectator went on to say that his wife had been treated and was now in remission—and it was because of the dedication of the PMC riders that she was still alive.
"I powered over that hill knowing that we had made a difference in the lives of that man and his wife," Chris says. "The image of him thanking me because his wife was alive inspired me to the best ride I've experienced of the three PMC challenges I've done."