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Fundraiser building steam

Wheeling for Heeling riders cross the Turners Falls Rail-Trail Bridge from East Deerfield to Montague City.
Special to The Recorder/Phyliss Stone

Wheeling for Heeling riders cross the Turners Falls Rail-Trail Bridge from East Deerfield to Montague City. Special to The Recorder/Phyliss Stone

The Wheeling for Healing Bike Ride, now in its seventh year, will take place Aug. 24 in Greenfield and is quietly becoming a major fundraising event to support cancer services at Baystate Franklin Medical Center in Greenfield.

The Wheeling for Healing concept was born out of the Pan Mass Challenge, which is billed as the nation’s original fundraising bikeathon. The Pan Mass has grown into the largest fundraising event in the country and riders must raise a minimum of $4,300 to compete in the event, which raises money to support the Jimmy Fund.

Bruce Mainville, the lead nuclear technologist at Baystate Franklin who used to take part in the Pan Mass ride, approached friend and colleague Dr. Howard Natenshon in 2008 about bringing the same idea to life on a local level.

“For the Pan Mass Challenge, it becomes a six- or seven-month process to raise that much money and train,” Mainville said. “So I got together with Dr. Natenshon and said, ‘What if we got together and did something here for the hospital?’ That’s pretty much all I had to say to him because he tends to really run with things. He got in touch with the right people — public relations, marketing and the development office to do the fundraising — and we said, ‘Let’s give this a shot.’”

Thus the idea for the Wheeling for Healing race was born and it has turned into an annual Franklin County happening. The two enlisted the help of Steve Shattuck, an experienced rider to the area, and together designed 10-, 25- and 50-mile courses for the ride. All the money raised by the event goes directly to cancer services at Baystate Franklin in Greenfield, keeping all the money right here in the county.

The event begins at the White Eagle Polish Picnic Grounds in Greenfield, where riders convene before heading out on the various rides. The 50-mile ride is the most challenging of the bunch and heads out to Bernardston, Northfield and Warwick before coming back through Turners Falls and Greenfield. The 25-mile course is a shorter version and a bit less challenging, while the 10-mile course is easier still and keeps riders in Greenfield. There is also a new 3-mile course for kids and those new to riding.

“The courses are beautiful,” Shattuck said. “Biking in Western Mass. is pretty phenomenal. There’s just so much beauty. Like when we go across the Connecticut River where the Deerfield comes in to it on the bike trail over in Turners, and all of the farm land we pass, the scenery is just gorgeous.”

Shattuck, who routinely bikes 100 miles in a day, said that the 50-mile course will be a challenge for even the most experienced riders. Both he and Mainville stressed that one of the most important factors when choosing the right course for participants is to not try to overdo it.

“You can actually go to mapmyride.com from the webpage and see the elevation so people can get an idea of what they’re really going to do,” Mainville explained. “You don’t want to bite off more than you can chew on a day when you’re doing a charity ride. That’s what we tell people. They need to choose a ride that they can finish in about three hours. It puts you back at the Polish Picnic Ground in a reasonable time and you can rest, have some food and enjoy the music. We don’t want this to be a grueling day, we want people to enjoy themselves.”

The event has seen slight growth every year, boasting its largest number of riders ever at 190 last year. It’s perfect for a family outing, or for a challenge for experienced riders. While the Pan Mass requires riders to raise over four grand apiece, the Wheeling for Healing is nowhere near as aggressive. Riders pay a $40 entry fee, which includes a T-shirt, post-ride cookout and live music. Riders are also asked to fundraise for the event, although there is no minimum requirement to take part. Although fundraising can be difficult, especially in tough economic times, another idea Wheeling for Healing has taken from the Pan Mass Challenge is the writing of names of cancer victims on riders’ jerseys.

“An awful lot of us write names on our jerseys in honor of those who we are riding for,” Mainville said. “And I tell people that if they donate whatever amount I will put the name of a person for them on my jersey and ride for that person. I literally have old Pan Mass jerseys covered in names of people that I rode for over the years, either a survivor or a person that has been taken by cancer. And it makes it a much more personal thing. That’s why we’ve gotten so many people to turn out, because there is nobody that I know that has not been affected by cancer.”

In six years the ride has raised $155,000 and the money has gone to an assortment of hospital services. According to Amy Swisher, Baystate-Franklin public-relations director, the money has been used for a variety of things.

“When you have a very complex organization like a hospital, the need for new equipment and furniture is always higher than the budget,” she explained. “When there is a need, and other things have inched out some things because of priorities, it’s very nice to have a fund to support.”

Many of the items purchased have gone to patient services such as buying new infusion chairs, comfort care items such as a television set that plays soothing meditative music for patients, and other items, including some for patients with special needs.

To find out more information on the Wheeling for Healing ride or to sign up to ride go to baystatehealth.org, click on the “Giving” icon at the top of the page, and under the “Foundation Events” category on the left side ensuing page, you will find the Wheeling for Healing link. More information on the event as well as maps of the various rides can be found there. You can also see a list of all riders registered for the event (the number is at 11 as of Thursday night but will jump quickly as the event closes in), and people can find out more about donating.

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