2012-05-25 / People

Couple to participate in Pan-Mass Challenge

By Adam Chabot
Staff Writer


John and Christin Whalen of Kennebunkport will cycle in the 33rd annual Pan- Massachusetts Challenge race Aug. 4-5. This is the second year the couple will race and John Whaen called last year’s event “lifechanging.” The couple plans on raising more than $6,000 for cancer research. (Adam Chabot photo) John and Christin Whalen of Kennebunkport will cycle in the 33rd annual Pan- Massachusetts Challenge race Aug. 4-5. This is the second year the couple will race and John Whaen called last year’s event “lifechanging.” The couple plans on raising more than $6,000 for cancer research. (Adam Chabot photo) John Whalen broke down in tears as he reflected on the stories of people stricken with cancer. Whalen and his wife Christin Whalen said they have been so inspired by the stories they’ve heard that they decided to participate in the 33rd annual Pan-Massachusetts Challenge on Aug. 4 and 5, a cycling event that ranges from a 25-mile, one-day event to a 190-mile, twoday event.

“Really, it’s the most extraordinary operation I’ve ever been involved in,” John said. “All along the way—it’s hard to talk about it without crying—people line the street like a parade. A parade to celebrate life, life lost or the lives that are challenged by this disease.”

John, owner and operator of Cider Mill Press Book Publishers and Appleseed Press Book Publishers in Kennebunkport, also called the Challenge “life-changing” and said this will be the second year he and his wife have participated.

“It’s a sight to behold,” John said. “It’s overwhelming, yet you’re not excluded; it’s very inclusive. You’ll meet people that you’ve never met before. People will come up alongside you while you’re riding, while you’re struggling, and they’ll say ‘Come on!’”

Last year’s Pan-Massachusetts Challenge raised approximately $34 million to support cancer research and treatment at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston. This year, the goal is to raise $36 million. Christin is a familiar face at the Dana Farber Cancer Institute. She recently celebrated 10 years as a clinical research nurse at the facility and spends much of her time working with ovarian cancer patients.

Christin said biking has always been something she wanted to do, but didn’t think she would ever take up the sport. She also said cancer patients she worked with have inspired her and John to take up biking.

Approximately 5,500 cyclists are expected to participate, and each one is required to raise at least $3,100. According to a press release, the Challenge has become the top athletic fund-raising event in the United States.

According to a press release from the Pan-Massachusetts Challenge, the Challenge runs through 46 Massachusetts communities and cyclists can choose from 11 routes designed to suit cycling abilities. This year, the couple will be biking an 80- plus mile trek for the Challenge and said they’ll need all the motivation they can get, as training for the Challenge should be begin soon with weekend bike rides.

The Whalens agreed that raising money and participating in the Challenge is the least they could do for such a good cause.

“It’s a devastating disease that’s only increasing,” Christin said. “Twenty years ago, kids died. Now, they’re living. It’s the right thing to do.”

John said the disease has affected members of his own family. Within a span of 18 months his sister had been diagnosed with stage three colon cancer; he lost an uncle to cancer just months later; lost his mother-in-law from cancer and an aunt from cancer as well.

“My feeling was, we really needed to do something ourselves,” John said. “We also wanted to set an example for our children that it’s one thing to say, ‘Somebody should do something.’ It’s another to actually do it.”

Christin said their children, John III, 17, Sam, 16, and Ryan, 15, all students at Kennebunk High School, participate in the fund-raising efforts “inspirationally” and also help by providing rides to and from the event.

The Whalens have two thermometer charts in their home so both John and Christin can track how much money they have each raised. John said it’s a friendly competition that helps keep both of them motivated.

“I even had friends that donated to (Christin) last year just so they could tease me,” John said with a laugh.

John also wanted to make it clear that he didn’t care who donated to whom and it doesn’t matter how much someone donates.

“You know what? You donate a dollar, it’s a dollar more,” Christin said. “It doesn’t matter how little or how much people give.”

John said he believes there is not one person who has not been affected by cancer in some way. “Cancer has touched everybody,” John said. “When we started getting these donations, we started hearing about the challenges these friends of ours and business colleagues have (gone through).”

Both of the Whalens said personal experiences and donors’ stories are other things that inspire them.

John and Christin agreed that one of their major inspirations was Traci Blais-Thomassen, a woman Christin had worked with at Dana-Farber who passed away from ovarian cancer in September 2011. Christin said she had a dramatic effect on them.

“With Traci, that was kind of my motivating factor. Now this is kind of my thing,” Christin said.

John said Blais-Thomassen epitomized what the Challenge is all about and, because of her, he and his wife will continue to participate in the event. John also wears an orange wristband the words “Yell Go Traci” in memory of Blais- Thomasson.

The Whalens said they hope to rally more people from Maine for the challenge, whether it’s by cycling or by volunteering.

“(The challenge) needs just as many volunteers as they need riders,” Christin said.

Anyone interested in donating to either John or Christin can mail checks to 12 Port Farm Road in Kennebunkport, ME 04046 or online at www.pmc.org/ egifts/CW0141 or at www.pmc.org/egifts/ JW0269.

Interested volunteers can visit www.pmc.org.

“I guarantee anybody that volunteers, it’ll change their lives,” John said. “Everybody told me that and said, ‘Come on, it’s a bike ride,’ but you just—you arrive that morning and you realize the instant you arrive by the way these people welcome you, that this is the closest some of us will ever come to being a hero.”

Staff Writer Adam Chabot can be reached at 282-4337 ext. 233.

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