2006-07-14 / Front Page

Pedaling toward a cure

Antonioni to ride in Pan-Mass Challenge for Jimmy Fund

Louis Amadio and Joanne Dinardo are two of Sen. Robert Antonioni's Pedal Partners for the Pan-Mass Challenge. CHAMPION PHOTO/BILL GILMAN Louis Amadio and Joanne Dinardo are two of Sen. Robert Antonioni's Pedal Partners for the Pan-Mass Challenge. CHAMPION PHOTO/BILL GILMAN State Sen. Robert Antonioni admits that when he strapped on his helmet in 1989 to ride in the Pan-Massachusetts Challenge for the first time, he was doing it for fun.

But with ever rider he spoke to, with every cancer survivor's story he heard, his perspective changed.

"It's much more than that now. It's a cause," said Antonioni, who is preparing to ride in his 13th Pan-Mass Challenge Aug. 4-6. The event raises millions of dollars each year for the Jimmy Fund of the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.

"It's a pretty humbling thing to talk with folks who are experiencing [cancer] or who have family members with it," he said. "You realize that you can't take your health for granted."

More than 4,000 riders are expected to participate in the 2006 Challenge, which begins in Sturbridge and ends in Provincetown, some 192 miles away. Antonioni will team up on the ride with Leominster resident Andrea Comeau.

This year's challenge is expected to raise more than $24 million, with 99 percent going directly to cancer research. In its first 26 years, the PMC has generated more than $145 million and has become that fund's single largest contributor each year.

"I can tell you that the reason I'm alive is because of the money raised for research," said Joanne DiNardo of Leominster, a two-time cancer survivor. "I'm alive because of the new drugs that have been developed."

DiNardo is one of Antonioni's "Pedal Partners," cancer patients from the area on whose behalf the senator will be riding. Other "Pedal Partners" include former Superintendent of Schools Lou Amadio, who has battled cancer four times over the past five years, and Rene Scapparone-Leavenworth, who made sure Antonioni would be riding in the challenge again this year.

"Rene started asking me in January if I was doing the PMC this year," said Antonioni. "She told me more than once, 'It's really important. We have to find a cure.'"

In addition, Antonioni is riding in the names of Greg Croteau and Simone Romano, each of whom lost their battle with cancer within the last year. Croteau, passed away at age 36, leaving behind a wife and two young children. Romano passed away in February at age 68. Both were represented by family members at a press conference on July 10, kicking off Antonioni's Pan-Mass Challenge fund-raising effort.

"We were all pretty touched when Sen. Antonioni expressed an interest in riding in our mother's name," said Patty Leavenworth, Romano's daughter. Mike Romano, one of Simone's sons, said he would be waiting at the finish line when Antonioni completed the trek.

With the challenge less than a month away, Antonioni has started his training in earnest. Weather permitting, he'll be riding about 125 miles a week for the next few weeks.

Each rider participating in the twoday challenge is responsible for raising $3,300. To date, Antonioni has raised about $1,250.

To support Antonioni in his effort, checks can be made out to "PMC-Jimmy Fund" and mailed to P.O. Box 663, Leominster, MA 01453. Donations can also be made online by logging onto www.PMC.org. Click the "make a donation" tab and select "online givingcredit cards." From there, type in "Bob Antonioni" and select "add rider."

Though the PMC is something Antonioni enjoys, he admits he wishes he never had to ride in the event again.

"It would be great if I couldn't find anyone who knew someone who died from cancer or who had cancer," he said, adding that with each dollar raised, researchers come closer to a cure.

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