Gwen Spencer Riding PMC For Her Brother
Gwen Spencer and her son Alex Picard at the 2023 PMC
By Christopher Tremblay, Staff Sports Writer
The Pan Mass Challenge (PMC) is a Massachusetts based bike-a-thon that raises more money for charity than any other single athletic fundraising event in the country. All money goes to the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, a world leader in adult and pediatric cancer treatment and research. Riders and volunteers come from 43 states and 12 countries all for the common goal of finding a cure for cancer. Since its inception in 1980 the PMC has raised $900 million for Dana Farber and the Jimmy Fund.
While some ride just for the sake of helping to rid the world of cancer, many ride for a particular person in their lives. Sutton native Gwen Spencer is riding in her tenth PMC, which all began because of her brother Mike, who was diagnosed with Acute Myeloid Leukemia back in 2013. Spencer had known some people who were involved in the event, and she wanted to make a difference, so she decided to climb aboard a bike and give it a shot with many friends from PwC, the consulting firm where she works, at her side.
“Like many, as a kid I rode a bike, but nothing like the PMC. I had to go out and get the basic equipment, like a bike, shoes, and a helmet before I could begin,” she said. “I didn’t go high-end; I got an entry-level bike as I was not exactly sure how it was going to go.”
With the equipment now purchased, before she could actually ride the bike, Spencer said that she had to learn the nuances of the clip-on shoes. She noted it was something that she had never used before so she had to practice clipping on and off the shoes so she wouldn’t fall off when she got off the bike.
Once she was stable in getting on and off the bike with no issues, it was time to take it out for a ride and prepare for her first PMC. That first year she did the Wellesley circle, a 50-mile ride that went from Wellesley to Gillette Stadium and back. To train she just rode her bike around Sutton, which as she noted was a very hilly area.
“That first year I rode my bike up and down the hills of Sutton, while my friends that were also involved with the event gave me tips on nourishment and how to ride in comfort,” she said. “I also trained in all kinds of weather as you never know what you’re going to get on the day of the event.”
Gwen Spencer in a past Pan Mass Challenge
Once she actually took part in her first PMC Spencer was astonished to how things went from beginning to end.
“I can’t tell you how amazing that first year was, there was so much support and people cheering you on everywhere,” Spencer recalled. “The ride itself seemed to go really smoothly and the weather that day was perfect. It seemed like I buzzed right over to Gillette and turned around to return.”
For two years Dr. Corey Cutler had been involved in treating her brother. Mike had undergone a bone marrow transplant and found himself cancer free, but unfortunately, his body didn’t accept the bone marrow; after enduring Graft vs. Host disease, Mike lost the overall battle. According to Spencer, Dr. Cutler was later involved in the research of her brother’s disease and was part of the team that got three FDA approved drugs on the market.
“Those drugs would have made a big difference in my brother’s life had he still been here,” she said. “With the support of Dana Farber Mike had several years of added time to be with friends and family, but had those drugs come out sooner I believer that they would have truly improved his outcome, giving him a 50/50 chance of surviving.”
While Spencer will be riding in her tenth PMC, she will be doing her seventh with her son Alex Picard, who is now 20 years old. At 13, Alex decided that he too wanted to do something to honor his uncle, so he began riding the PMC. That first year he followed in his mother’s bike riding steps and did the 50-mile round trip, but that second year he wanted to increase his riding and took on the second day ride from Bourne to Provincetown, meeting his mother after her day one ride from Sturbridge. The two have been doing the Sturbridge to Provincetown since.
Spencer noted that she really enjoys doing the ride and will continue to do it as long as her son want to continue doing it. As she enters her tenth PMC, it’s somewhat of a milestone that she never thought that she’d accomplish. In addition to riding the two-day PMC event for her brother, Spencer has also got involved with the American Cancer Society in the Boston area.