Cycling for a cure: Locals compete in bike challenge

What motivates a person to keep riding their bike uphill in the rain when their muscles are aching with fatigue and their body is drenched with sweat?

For Scott Johnston of Monroe, biking 200 miles through Massachusetts is a price he is willing to pay to find an end to cancer. Rielle Illy, also of Monroe, biked an estimated 155 miles in memory of those she has lost to cancer. They both competed in the Pan-Mass Challenge (PMC) over the weekend in an effort to raise money for the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.

“It was amazing, as it always is,” Johnston said.

Scott Johnston competed in the PMC as a member of Team Brent.

Illy works in oncology as a clinical researcher and said this was her second time competing in the PMC.

“I’m very much a part of the cancer world,” she said. “It was as motivating, emotional and inspiring as I remember it being.”

The race

According to PMC organizers the average cyclist trains for three months, solicits 40 sponsors and raises more than $7,000. To compete in the PMC, participants have to raise a minimum of $4,800. No other single athletic event raises or contributes more money to charity than the PMC. Since 1980, the PMC has raised $547 million dollars for Dana-Farber through the Jimmy Fund, its fund-raising arm. The PMC is Dana-Farber’s largest single contributor, raising more than 52% of the Jimmy Fund’s annual revenue.

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Johnston said he has been involved with the PMC for seven years as a volunteer and as a rider for the past four years.

“The cool thing about this ride is for the entire 200 miles it is very emotional because you’re riding through rural farms in the middle of Massachusetts and there’s people at the end of their driveways with signs, saying, ‘Thank you, because of you my wife has lived three more years.’ You pull into rest stops and a 16-year-old girl will come and give you a hug and say, ‘Because of you I went to my junior prom.’ It’s that way for 200 miles,” he said.

Johnston competes in the PMC as a member of Team Brent and the funds they raise are used exclusively for neuroblastoma research. The team competes in honor of Brent, a 15-year-old from Southport who was diagnosed with neuroblastoma when he was a toddler. The team also competes for a four-year-old named Mason from Trumbull.

Scott Johnston

He said he was inspired to participate in the PMC after a friend mentioned it to him, but that he initially thought he would only do it once. However, Johnston said it was such an amazing experience he chose to continue participating in the PMC.

“I’m like everyone else, cancer has affected everybody,” Johnston said.

He said he lost his father and a friend to cancer and that his mother is a cancer survivor.

“It’s something you do, to do your part for cancer research,” he said.

Illy participated in the PMC with her uncle, which she said she enjoys.

Rielle Illy biked 155 miles in memory of her aunt, her priest and a friend currently fighting Stage 4 melanoma.

“My aunt, Margaret, she died of kidney cancer in 2010. In 2011, I wanted to ride and dedicate it to her.”

She said that more of her loved ones have been affected by cancer since her first ride. Illy lost a priest and said a close family friend is currently fighting stage 4 melanoma.

Illy said her favorite part of the PMC, aside from spending time with her uncle, is witnessing the outpouring of support to find a cure.

“The sheer mass of people coming together in support of a cause is truly amazing,” she said.


“My legs are still sore two days later,” Illy said, after admitting that she hadn’t been able to train as much as she would have liked as a single parent.

She said that the hardest part of the PMC for her is finding the motivation to keep us with her training prior to the race. Illy said the race itself isn’t as challenging because she knows the crowds will be there to cheer on the cyclists.

“People come out and cheer for you all along the route,” she said. “It’s really great to see so many people there to cheer you on because you can definitely need it sometimes.”

Johnston admitted that while he enjoy completing the PMC, that it is physically  “gruelling” and had plenty of hills.

“The adrenaline just pumps you through it,” he said.

Johnston said there was a lot of training involved in preparing for the PMC. He said he’d bike 25 miles in the morning before work and complete 60-to-70-mile loops on the weekends in the weeks leading up to the PMC.

“I’m happy to do my small, tiny, little part to raise some money and raise awareness,” Johnston said.

Illy echoed his sentiment, “We’re all trying to benefit people for years to come.”

About author
TinaMarie Craven is the Arts & Leisure editor. She previously worked as the editor of the Monroe Courier and the Lewisboro Ledger. She graduated from Ithaca College with a BA in Journalism and Politics in 2015.

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