ELMHURST – An Elmhurst man and an Oak Brook woman are preparing to ride to save lives.
George Churchill of Elmhurst and Randa Bishlawi of Oak Brook will participate in the 39th annual Pan-Mass Challenge, a bikeathon Aug. 4 and 5 in Massachusetts that raises money for the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.
All the funds raised by each rider participating in the challenge go directly to the institute, which provides care to children and adults with cancer and advances cancer research,Pan-Mass Challenge Senior Vice President of IT and Operations Dave Hellman said.
The Pan-Mass Challenge raised more than $50 million in 2017, and the goal this year is $52 million, Hellman said.
He said all the funds are able to go directly to the institute because of corporate sponsorships and companies' donations of goods and services that allow for efficient operations, and donors will not be included on any mailing lists from the challenge event organizers or the institute apart from a thank-you letter.
"I think that's a little bit unique, that we protect that relationship and the privacy of the relationship between the riders and the donors, and that's another reason that the donors come back in the same way year after year to support those riders," Hellman said.
Both Churchill and Bishlawi have been personally impacted by cancer and have relatives in Massachusetts.
Churchill lost his mother to cancer in 2010, his father is battling Stage 4 cancer, his stepfather is in remission from cancer and the daughter of a couple of his friends died of cancer at age 6.
"It is a pernicious and awful disease, and not enough is done to combat it," he said.
Churchill will ride 192 miles with a high school friend of his from Sturbridge, Mass., to Provincetown, Mass., which is at the tip of Cape Cod. This year will be his fifth time participating in the challenge.
He said participating in the bikeathon has become a tradition around which he plans his summer.
"At some point, you make a commitment to something that is a bit big and a bit scary and a bit hard. ... It's the least I can do because imagine how big and scary and hard it is to get diagnosed with cancer," Churchill said.
He said each participating team sponsors a child going through cancer treatment at the institute, and children who are healthy enough come out to a rest stop along the route and the bikers can visit with them. Churchill also works for PricewaterhouseCoopers, also known as PwC, which is a corporate sponsor of the challenge.
Bishlawi's sister Mona died from cancer, and Bishlawi, along with friends and relatives, rides in her honor under the name Team Mona. This year will be Bishlawi's fifth time participating in the challenge, and she will ride an 88-mile route Aug. 4.
Bishlawi said people along the route cheer on the bikeathon participants, run alongside them and thank them for riding.
"It is an unbelievable gift to be able to ride in it," she said.
Over the course of Team Mona's participation, team members have been able to raise more than $100,000.
Churchill encouraged people to participate in charity fundraising events in which there is a commitment to raise money.
"What's amazing is how generous friends and acquaintances and family members are when you're doing something for a good cause. ... People are always looking for ways to do good, and if you can give them that reason, they're actually appreciative and you're able to do a lot just by taking the action and asking for the help," he said.
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