New Canaan resident bikes to defeat cancer
Updated 11:50 am, Friday, July 28, 2017
It goes without saying that cancer has touched the lives of virtually everyone in some way or another.
That’s why Dave Hazard and 6,500 other riders—along with 4,000 volunteers—have taken matters into their own hands, biking almost 200 miles in a two-day stretch at the Pan-Mass Challenge in Massachusetts on Aug. 5 and 6.
The event, which has been in existence since 1980, sees riders from all over the globe gather to raise money for cancer research at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston.
“It’s pretty simple, and sadly so, at the PMC everybody has a story,” Hazard said. “You can say that at any fundraiser, cancer affects anybody at any age, its sadly a disease anybody knows about and sooner or later it’s going to hit you personally.”
For Hazard, it hit home in the form of his ex-wife Cynthia Lufkin. Hazard and Lufkin were active in the fundraising community in New York City while they were married, and remained close after what he described as an amicable divorce.
The two worked together to raise their now 20-year old daughter Schuyler until the time of Lufkin’s death four years ago.
Lufkin was in every sense, a fighter.
It took the disease eight years to beat her, and in the process, Lufkin was named the American Cancer Society’s Mother of the Year for delivering her second daughter while battling stage four cancer.
Hazard intended to ride in 2013 to support Lufkin’s fight, but a double hernia sidelined him from that year’s challenge. After losing Lufkin and three others close to him in the following year, he wasn’t letting anything stop him in 2014.
“I signed up the first day I could,” Hazard said. “I still didn’t own a bike and didn’t know what I was getting myself into, didn’t know if I could raise the amount of money—it’s a significant amount of money, the biggest fundraiser in the world.”
To top it off, Mother Nature greeted him and the rest of the riders rudely in that first event.
“The last 50 miles I thought I was riding in my shower on full blast,” Hazard sad. “It was really cold, it was such a weather anomaly. They had 50 people in the hospital from hypothermia but it was a huge badge of honor to finish. It was my first event and I was hooked, it’s a tremendous organization.”
Hazard hooked up with college friend Andy Hart, who was riding for his wife, who is battling the disease. They decided to start Team Velominati the following year. It grew from four members to eight in 2016 and will boast 25 riders in 2017. The members earned the title of Heavy Hitters, the top 10% of fundraisers and has members from Connecticut as well as Boston, Miami, New Jersey and Montana.
What sets the Pan-Mass Challenge apart is the ability of donors to select exactly where their money goes, along with the knowledge that every penny will be put directly towards finding a cure.
“Fundraising is unique,” said Hazard, whose team hopes to raise $200,000 this year. “The Pan-Mass has an 100% efficiency rating which is unheard of. Normal fundraisers are blurred with overhead, but when you give them a buck it goes 100% to full research. The Jimmy Fund and Dana-Farber Research Center aren’t in it for the profit, they give all the protocols away, they’re just trying to find a cure by doing all their research with patients there. The work they’re doing in groundbreaking.”
It’s part of the reason why Hazard has fallen in love with the organization, and why it has become the universal benchmark for fundraising.
“I’m on a first name basis with them and they do wonderful job,” Hazard said. “…there are people who run charity events all over the country and internationally that come in to watch how the Pan-Mass Challenge does what it does with 100% efficiency. All the corporate sponsors and all 6,500 people moving together—you’ve got lodging and food and luggage and all kinds of crazy stuff going on, they absolutely nail it, it’s a fascinating choreography to watch them route all these people.”
Both Schuyler and Hazard’s wife, Stephanie, have been nothing but supportive of his charitable endeavor, which is necessary, as Hazard said that once somebody rides for the first time, they almost always return.
He recalled his first event, waking up at a hotel in Worcester, Mass. and stumbling into the hallway at 3:30 a.m. to see hordes of riders in spandex shorts and matching jerseys, all ready to endure that first rainstorm.
“It was surreal,” Hazard said. “There’s a regional television show and they send you off with a marching band and cheerleaders and an Irish opera singer that does the National Anthem. It’s quite a sight, it really is.”
Hazard, along with many of the other cyclists, rides for the past—for the memories of loved ones.
But they also ride for the future, for the hope of a cure, for the thought that biking along the streets of Massachusetts can somehow, someday save a life and prevent others from the pain they’ve felt themselves.
“It’s a great way to honor my former spouse, and it’s a great way for my daughter to see how much her mom meant to me and to let Schuyler know we’re fighting for her,” Hazard said. “She has the same gene my wife had that is a cancer trigger, she is at a high risk for breast cancer when she this her 30s for breast cancer, so I’m riding to raise money for not just my daughter’s potential life down the road but for everybody’s.”