This team doesn't just go the extra mile. It goes the extra 190.
During the weekend of Aug. 7 and 8, the Patriots Platelet Pedalers (PPP) biked across the Bay State, as they've done so many times before, from Sturbridge to Provincetown, at the very tip of Cape Cod. The two-day odyssey is just short of 200 miles total, and it's not exactly a leisurely, scenic ride. But the muscle pain and soreness the riders endure pales in comparison to the true suffering of the cancer patients they're helping save.
The effort began several years ago, when a group of concerned individuals with a penchant for pedaling got together with a shared goal of helping raise awareness and funding for cancer research. They called themselves the Platelet Pedalers and quickly developed a loyal following. All the proceeds from their rides went directly to the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute here in Massachusetts - specifically to a research team headed by Dr. Kenneth C. Anderson of Harvard University.
Successful as they were, the bikers wanted to do more, and Dr. Anderson's team certainly needed any extra dollars they could secure. So, they approached the Patriots for help. The Super Bowl-winning franchise agreed to add its name and resources to the worthy cause.
The result has been a profitable partnership. Since the Patriots lent their support three years ago, the Pedalers have increased not just their membership, but also their fundraising totals. Not including this year's results (sponsorship solicitation ends Oct. 1), the Patriots Platelet Pedalers have raised $1.4 million. They expect to garner $750,000 to $800,00 in donations with this year's effort, pushing their all-time total to more than $2 million.
"Without question, these funds have fast forwarded progress," Dr. Anderson raved. "Moreover, they allow us to think 'outside the box' and try novel and innovative strategies which simply would not be supported by any other available grant and support mechanisms.
"The funds go directly to support research which has already developed new treatment options for patients with myeloma. Patients are living twice as long today as a direct result. The Patriot Platelet Pedalers are giving the gift of hope and life to our patients, and there is no greater gift than this."
With 141 members in 2009 and 135 this year, the Pedalers are easily the most popular team in the Pan-Mass Challenge - the annual event in which they ride. The next highest team total is less than 100. The Patriots have added football-related incentives to help encourage participation and recruiting efforts. For instance, the PPP member who recruits the most new riders or sponsors gets tickets to a Patriots game. Other honorees receive Patriots merchandise and other gifts.
Among the most ardent supporters is the Andruzzi family - Joe, his wife, Jen, and their four children. Andruzzi, the former Patriots offensive lineman who won three Super Bowls with New England, is himself a cancer survivor.
In May 2007, he was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin's Burkitt's lymphoma, and had to undergo the most aggressive chemotherapy treatment over three months at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and Brigham and Women's Hospital.
Today, Andruzzi is in remission. His return to full health allows him to dedicate a significant portion of his time to cancer awareness and fundraising initiatives like the PPP. He rode in the 2009 Pan-Mass Challenge, while Jen has ridden the past two years. Andruzzi and his children were at the finish line to greet her last month.
Andruzzi compared the 190-mile Sturbridge-to-Provincetown course to an NFL training camp, describing the former as one of the most difficult athletic challenges of his life, but one that was well worth the sacrifice.
"Training camp might be a little easier," he laughed. "No, they're both different sports. It was strenuous. Every hill, it seemed, was in the first 50 miles. I rode 110 miles to Bourne (Mass.) and then my knee was bothering me. I lost feeling in my hand from the chemotherapy side effects. I got back on the bike the following day, but had no strength in my fingers, arms were numb. My wife finished it out, though.
"It's a great thing. A very inspirational ride," he added. "To be part of it last year, such a great team ... I definitely plan on riding again in the future, sure. I wanted to have my kids learn more about it and see what my wife was doing and to be there at the finish line to cheer her on."
In recent years, the Pan-Mass Challenge has changed its rules so that any new team must give to the general Dana-Farber Fund. But because the PPP has been around for so long, a grandfather clause allows it to continue giving all its proceeds directly to Dr. Anderson's group.
"I wouldn't be here talking to you if it wasn't for research and people supporting those groups," Andruzzi concluded.
"Here I am, a 10-year NFL veteran athlete, next day I'm in the hospital getting chemo. Doesn't matter who you are, cancer finds you. It's a scary disease, and we all want that ultimate goal, which is a cure."
Anyone can join the Patriots Platelet Pedalers, provided they can reach the individual fundraising minimum. In addition to the two-day ride, there are also one-day rides, half-day rides, and children's rides. For more information, please visit www.patriots.com/community.