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PMC road crew lifts event, rain or shine

PMCRoadCrewAlHomer

Al Homer of Brockton, a 24-year PMC Road Crew volunteer, pauses at the Team Forza-G roadside party in Rehoboth during the Pan-Mass Challenge bike-a-thon for cancer research on August 2.

So many of us find it hard to step out of the whirl and go beyond ourselves. In an age of Instagrams and streaming Twitter updates, people seem too busy to call even when something’s gone terribly wrong. They might text instead. It becomes harder to pause, and finding solace eludes us.

 

At least once a year, volunteers and riders in the Pass-Mass Challenge bike-a-thon break through this paradigm. During last weekend’s downpours and relative chill in the Bay State, they persevered again.

 

I spent the weekend with some of the PMC’s road crew and command staff traversing much of the 192-mile route. Some of their own backstories, their camaraderie, innovations and connections with riders to help fight cancer are apt to inspire you. PMCers set out to raise a record $40 million in its 35th year for a cumulative contribution to Boston’s Dana-Farber Cancer Institute of more than $450 million.

These PMC volunteers continue to show up. They don’t make excuses. They’re never too busy. Giving up a weekend to offer their skills, they’ve got our backs.

*****

A rider named Barry stood in a parking lot overlooking Onset Bay in the driving rain, bent over and clutching the back of his legs. For the third time Saturday he had a flat tire, his riding team was somewhere ahead, and during the past two hours the temperature had dropped perhaps 10 degrees to 60.

 

A slight tremor washed over the lean eight-year rider. He still could feel his fingers, but with his body temporarily not in motion, a few early signs of possible hypothermia were evident. Al Homer, a carpenter from Brockton and a PMC volunteer, pried the tube from the tire with his fingers, spotting the leak after pumping in a few blasts of air.

 

With only about three miles left to reach the Massachusetts Maritime Academy, the ending point for the first day, there was no way that Barry, like most PMCers, was quitting. Within a couple of minutes Homer replaced the tube and re-mounted the wheel. Thanking Homer, the man walked his bike back to the road.

 

While the grit of more than 5,700 riders who pedal for loved ones and friends is celebrated each year – tested again by last weekend’s weather – less heralded is the commitment of the PMC’s legion of volunteers. Among these 3,700 are a hardy band of bike mechanics and EMTs who are seemingly omnipresent when riders need a hand along the routes, and a command staff coordinating logistics behind the scenes to make the iconic event hum even when faced with fresh challenges.

 

Plenty of those surfaced during Saturday’s rain. By late morning heavy showers began scouring stretches of the route from Rehoboth to Lakeville and beyond. Road crew veterans like Homer knew exactly what that would bring: more flats as road debris collects on the tires – and potentially worse. “Dehydration in the heat, hypothermia in the rain,” he said.

 

During the weekend 10 cyclists were transported to the hospital and 80 riders reported hypothermia, some declining medical treatment, while others donned thermal blankets or rested on warming mattresses brought in last minute to the gym on the academy campus. It was what founder and PMC executive director Billy Starr called the “coldest sustained rain” in the event’s 35year history. Yet the conditions did not dampen most riders’ resolve – with a million miles covered during the weekend, only several dozen riders stopped early, with some picked up on buses or their family members at the final water stops.

 

Homer, 54, and his wife Janice are among a road crew and command center group who usually spend the weekend supporting the PMC. About 75 people make up the road crew while a few dozen others manage communications, logistics, and medical emergency responses in a command hub at the maritime academy.

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‘Not one more’ must come from each of us

“In such a world of conflict, a world of victims and executioners, it is the job of thinking people, as Albert Camus suggested, not to be on the side of the executioners.”  — Howard Zinn, A People’s History of the United States: 1492 to Present

 

The New York TimesThe killing of six college students a week ago near the campus of the University of California at Santa Barbara has undoubtedly shaken many of us. Yet will we commit to bringing about change before inevitably moving on?

 

While trying to process this latest mass tragedy, I wondered what Zinn, the late activist and historian of people’s movements, would suggest. We could use some Zinn-like perspective now.

 

I won’t try to delve far into the embittered so-called debate regarding gun control. Misinformation continues to rage from the “firearms fanbase” to “soft liberals,” while everyday people, moms and dads from Newtown and other places try to move us towards common-gound approaches to reduce gun violence.

One thing Zinn would remind us it that it won’t be the politicians leading the nation to find solutions. It’s rarely worked that way.

On gun violence they’ve caved, dithered, and while there’s movement this week on securing background checks, in many states the pols have actually loosened gun restrictions since the Sandy Hook massacre in 2012.

 

It will take those like Richard Martinez, whose son Christopher was killed in Isla Vista, to inspire us. He led thousands of UCSB students gathered in a chant of “Not one more,” which spread like wildfire across social media for gun legislation. (#IslaVista #gunviolence #backgroundcheck #GUN SAFETY, etc)

 

“The problem with piecemeal legislation is it’s like building a car out of parts from different manufacturers, and expecting it to run effectively,” Martinez said in an interview Wednesday with The New York Times. “That’s not an effective way to approach such a complicated problem.”

 

This week, Congress took a symbolic step to fund a national background check system for gun sales.
The measure would provide $19.5 million in additional grant financing to help states submit records to a federal database aimed at preventing felons and the mentally ill from buying weapons. Important in one sense, yet that seems like peanuts scattered on the floor under the circus tent.

 

Still, police in California say 22-year-old Elliott Rodger purchased his guns legally, reportedly despite years of psychological therapy.

 

“Our national criminal background check system is only as good as the data you put in it, and right now all the information isn’t getting into the system,” the bill’s sponsors, led by House Democrat Mike Thompson, said after the vote. “When this happens, we can’t enforce the law, and criminals, domestic abusers, or dangerously mentally ill individuals who otherwise wouldn’t pass a background check can slip through the cracks and buy guns.”

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