By Joan Goodchild
Westborough – On many days, you can find fitness instructor Dawn Geoffroy teaching cardio, strength-training, yoga and spinning classes at the Boroughs Family Branch YMCA in Westborough. She loves to encourage people by telling them to push harder than they think they can.
“This is you making a difference in your body and on the scale,” she says to groaning participants. “Sexy arms don’t come mail order!”
But lately Geoffroy has needed to heed some of her own advice. She is currently training to ride close to 200 miles across the state of Massachusetts as part of an August fund-raiser known as the Pan Mass Challenge (PMC).
“As a trainer and yoga instructor, I’m always encouraging people to go beyond what they think they are capable of,” she said. “I think this was me wanting me to take my own pill.”
The PMC, put on by the Boston Red Sox Foundation and New Balance, is a fund-raising bike-a-thon that raises money for the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute through its Jimmy Fund. Each year since 1980, thousands of riders have taken on the grueling challenge of riding across Massachusetts, from Sturbridge to Provincetown, in a ride that totals over 190 miles. This year the event will be held the weekend of Aug. 6 and 7.
Geoffroy lost her mother in 2010 to late-stage brain cancer, just six months after her mom received the diagnosis. When she died, her mother did not want a service, and Geoffroy said it was difficult to adjust to the loss without that kind of formal closure.
“They make you cry it out at funerals for a reason; you have to get it out,” she said. “We had also lost my dad a few years before and I felt “untethered.””
But several months later, while watching videos on YouTube, Geoffroy came across a PMC video, and was inspired to get involved as a way to both honor her mother's memory and raise money for a cause now close to her heart.
Although she is a veteran fitness instructor, Geoffroy had never been a road biker. After deciding to ride in the PMC, she bought her first road bike and began training, which came with more challenges than just the physical. The mother of two young girls, Geoffroy said the toughest part is finding what she calls “time in the saddle.” She tries to bike about 100 miles weekly.
“I’ve had a lot of friends help me with playdates so I can have the time,” she said.
Training on the local roads of central Massachusetts has been an eye-opener for Geoffroy, who said she used to see bikers on the road and wonder why they couldn’t make more of an effort to stay on the side, out of harm's way.
“The New England roads are treacherous,” she said. “You can easily pitch yourself over into a ditch if you aren’t careful. I’m much more cognizant of runners and bikers now when I drive.”
So far, Geoffroy has almost reached her $5,000 fund-raising goal. If she reaches it, she hopes to bump up the total and raise even more, which would put her in the heavy-hitter fund-raising category. The PMC funds are all donated to cancer research, she noted, making the training and hard work of the ride even more worthwhile to her.
“I’ll ride it every year if I can help one person spend more time with their family,” she said. “There is a lot of work and a lot of research that needs to be done to get ahead of cancer and I’m proud to be doing my part.”