By Ed Karvoski Jr., Contributing Writer
Marlborough – Billy Richards of Marlborough is preparing to ride in his seventh Pan-Mass Challenge (PMC), an annual bike-a-thon that raises funds for life-saving cancer research. This year, he’s particularly determined to fundraise for the cause. His father Bill Richards – affectionately known as “Big Bill” – passed away Aug. 17, 2016, at age 62 of pancreatic cancer.
Joining Billy this year on the two-day ride Saturday and Sunday, Aug. 5 and 6, for 190 miles from Sturbridge to Provincetown will be his uncle John Richards, who is also his godfather. Although not an avid bicyclist, Billy first accepted the challenge of the long-distance ride in 2009.
“Other than my father, everyone said I couldn’t do it,” he recalled. “I was extremely out of shape, needed a goal and always loved the ideals of the PMC. When I got to the end of the ride, my dad was in tears. Both my parents were so proud of me that I set a goal and was able to finish.”
Of Billy’s six completed PMC rides, four were 190 miles and two were 50 miles, for which he raised a total of about $150,000. He rode his most recent PMC in 2015, two weeks after suffering a separated shoulder.
“It’s labor of love,” he said. “There are times when you’re riding and tired, then see pictures of kids who are fighting cancer. The little pain you feel in your butt, back and hands, is nothing compared to theirs. I can’t cure cancer myself, but this is my chance to do something.”
He couldn’t register last year because of personal commitments in Hong Kong. Last August, his father was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. After the diagnosis, Billy made two long-distance phone calls to his father from overseas.
“I talked with my dad once,” he said. “The second time that I called, I saw his last breath on video chat.”
His father suddenly passed away one week after the diagnosis. Dealing with the family’s grief has intensified Billy’s goal to continue PMC fundraising.
“I want to find an early warning test for pancreatic cancer because it’s the silent killer,” he said. “As long as the money keeps coming, I’ll keep riding. My godfather will be by my side.”
Billy’s uncle John grew up as the youngest of three brothers. John noted that he was thrilled when asked to be Billy’s godfather. Now, he’s preparing for his first PMC.
“I don’t know how I’m going to ride 190 miles, but I will find a way because it’s important for Billy to have family there by his side,” John said. “I’m doing this to celebrate my brother’s life, to help find a cure for cancer, and more importantly to give Billy extra support because he lost his best friend. Their relationship was far beyond just father and son.”
John and Billy are planning fundraisers. On Sunday, May 21, they’ll co-host a silent auction at 1 p.m., followed by a screening of “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” about an hour later at the Strand Theatre, 58 High St. in Clinton. Among many auction items are a timeshare vacation, golf foursome with cart at Sterling Country Club, an autographed photo of Chicago Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo, and several gift baskets. Food and beverages will be available. Donation at the door is $10.
Each of Billy’s previous PMC rides began early morning with his father driving him to the starting point. Later, Billy was greeted at the finish line by his parents “Big Bill” and Peggy. This year will likely be as emotional, Billy noted.
“Dad won’t be there, but I’ll look up at him and cry because he would be crying,” Billy said. “For me, the best part of doing this ride is the hugs with family at the end.”