Multigenerational team carries on the PMC tradition—and helps to change the face of pediatric brain tumors

Every family has their own traditions. It might be a special vacation destination, a meal enjoyed together, or simply some inside jokes. For the Marsh family, it’s the Pan-Mass Challenge (PMC), the most successful athletic fundraiser in the country, which donates 100% of every rider-raised donor to Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and the Jimmy Fund and is co-presented by the Red Sox Foundation and M&T Bank.

Ben, a Needham, Mass., resident, first rode in the PMC in 2006, after being inspired by two friends who participated the year prior. Soon, in 2008, the team grew to 12 team members and was dubbed “The Bikers Dozen.” A collection of dads, the team quickly became a community, with each rider bringing their family to pre-ride celebrations and the kids, including Ben’s children, Sara and Jonathan, making signs and cheering their dads on along the route.

“This is something that’s been a part of our family for nearly 20 years. Every year, we mark PMC on the calendar,” Sara says. “We’re a very active family and my grandmother taught me to ride a bicycle growing up, but I had never gotten on a road bike until PMC training, and it was a totally different experience.”

Sara was 14 when her dad started riding, and she remembers going to 15 or so pre-ride dinners with her brother and the other riders’ children, cheering her dad and his friends on, before clipping into the bike for her first ride. Her brother, Jonathan, did the virtual PMC ride during the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 and the pressure was finally enough for Sara to sign up herself. Today, there are 10 “Bikers Dozen 2.0” riders—children of the original team members from the early 2000s—with Sara being one of the few daughters to join in.

“My first ride felt a lot longer than 85 miles, since I had never ridden that distance on a bike before, but you have so many people cheering for you and there are so many different types of people who do the ride, that it was super inspiring,” Sara reflects. “Going from the cheering side to the riding side was big shift; it really is a huge achievement and accomplishment to do the PMC.”

The Marsh family at the 2013 ride

Funds raised by the Bikers Dozen, which have surpassed an impressive $4.1 million since 2006, support Dana-Farber Cancer Institute research into diffuse intrinsic pontine gliomas (DIPG) and pediatric low-grade astrocytoma (PLGA), two pediatric brain tumors. DIPG is a highly aggressive, difficult-to-treat brain tumor, while PGLAs are a collective group of more common childhood brain tumors. Funds raised by the PMC, the Bikers Dozen, and other philanthropic support help dedicated researchers at Dana-Farber develop and test new, less toxic forms of treatment, to improve quality of life for children facing these diseases. Collectively, the PMC community has raised $972 million in support of research and care at Dana-Farber, funds that are changing the way cancer is treated for adults and children not only in Boston, but around the world. The PMC is the Jimmy Fund’s largest annual donor, accounting for 62% of the Jimmy Fund’s revenue in 2023, and in 2024, the 45th ride, the community is anticipated to surpass an incredible $1 billion raised since 1980.

“One day Dana-Farber researchers and doctors are finally going to cure cancer, and the PMC will be in chapter one of the book explaining how they did it,” Ben says. “We’re the heavy hitters in an event that is doing great things, and it’s a really cool feeling. I worked as a trader on Wall Street for 40 years helping clients buy and sell; it made me feel good helping people make money so they can support their families or be able to send their kids to college, but now I can feel good about doing something on a larger scale and in the community. Things in cancer care are changing and we’re proud to be a part of it.”

While the Bikers Dozen started with a close-knit group primarily in Needham, a contingent of the riders come in from Jacksonville, Florida, for the event to honor a team member’s daughter, Ellie, who was treated by Dana-Farber for PLGA and sadly passed away in 2011. This year marks Ellie’s sister, Militsa’s, second PMC at 20 years old, growing the Bikers Dozen 2.0 family. The team has also formed connections with other Dana-Farber patients along the way, including their 2024 pedal partner, Sabine, who was diagnosed with leukemia at 2-and-a-half years old and treated at Dana-Farber’s Jimmy Fund Clinic. According to Ben, “she represents the best reason we train, ride, and fundraise.”

On August 4, most of the Bikers Dozen riders will meet at the Babson College starting line to begin the 85-mile first-day route to the Bourne Bridge from their own community. After the second day of riding, most of the team will meet up in Martha’s Vineyard for a few days to recover and relax together.

“The community through this all has been so special,” Sara says. “Stepping into a team that has had such success with fundraising helps keep the second generation of the Bikers Dozen motivated.”

As Sara and her peers continue to grow the 2.0 faction of the Bikers Dozen—and look ahead to the 3.0 generation in the future—Ben and his original riders, who he says started when they were “young and athletic,” are now in their 60s, but plan to keep riding as long as they can.

“What Dana-Farber is doing is amazing,” Ben says. “The PMC makes us feel like we’re all doctors, just because we’re riding bikes. We’re a part of curing cancer and it’s a good feeling.”

Register for the 2024 PMC on August 3-4, 2024, with route ranging from 25 to 211 miles, and be one in a billion, as PMC cycles toward $1 billion raised for Dana-Farber and the Jimmy Fund since the event started in 1980.

Donations to the PMC also support The Dana-Farber Campaign, our ambitious, multi-year fundraising effort to prevent, treat, and defy cancer. The Dana-Farber Campaign will accelerate the Institute’s strategic priorities by supporting revolutionary science, extraordinary care, and exceptional expertise. As a community, we have the power to create a more hopeful, cancer-free future—in Boston and around the world. Together, we can defy cancer at every turn. Learn more about The Dana-Farber Campaign and how you can get involved at DefyCancer.org.