Just months before, the couple had celebrated the birth of healthy twin boys, Eric and Kevin, at their home in Washington, D.C.
But in the fall of 2011, Garry Meus, 37 at the time, and his wife, Jennifer, 32, packed their bags for Boston, uprooting and moving in the hope that specialists at the world-renowned Dana-Farber Cancer Institute could save Jennifer from an advanced form of breast cancer.
Over the years, her condition worsened and the side effects of chemotherapy, mastectomies, and radiation took a toll.
In February, Garry promised to ride in the Pan-Mass Challenge, the annual cycling fund-raiser for cancer research at Dana-Farber. Jennifer promised to support him and cheer him on from the sidelines, alongside their two boys.
But she died in May, a day after Mother’s Day. They had decided to stop Jennifer’s treatment so she could spend her last weeks without the pain it caused.
Riding over the hills Saturday on the 82-mile route from Wellesley to Bourne, Garry felt his legs begin to cramp. The rain beat down on him, he said, and the hills seemed “massive.”
But he was riding in Jennifer’s memory, so he couldn’t stop.
“Basically, I powered through,” he said in a phone interview from Lakeville, where he stopped for a break. “With her in my mind.”
Garry is among 5,700 people riding over the weekend in this year’s Pan-Mass Challenge, which has raised more than $414 million for cancer research and patient care since its inception in 1980, said Jackie Herskovitz, a spokeswoman for the event. The bicyclists come from 35 states and eight countries, each with their own story about why they are riding, she said.
Constant rain Saturday made the routes even more grueling. At least 30 people were taken to a medical tent for hypothermia, Herskovitz said. The conditions were the worst she’s seen in the past 13 years, she said. And forecasts call for more rain tomorrow.
Water stations every 20 miles of the courses are staffed with paramedics, Herskovitz said.
Nik Pereira-Kamath, 25, decided to make his ride even more challenging (and, some friends have said, absurd). Pereira-Kamath, who works at investment firm Berkshire Partners in Boston, took to the peloton with a bicycle from Hubway, Boston’s bike-sharing program, albeit one with more comfortable pedals.
The bike is three times as heavy as a normal road bike, and noticeably slower, he said. Last year, he finished near the front of the line. This year, he completed day one of his two-day, 160-mile ride closer to the end of the pack.
Still, after a grueling day, Pereira-Kamath, the son of doctors, is looking forward to finishing Sunday evening. He’s raised about $13,000 thus far, he said.
“I’ve always cared about health care issues,” Pereira-Kamath said in a phone interview from the Massachusetts Maritime Academy in Bourne, where he, along with hundreds of other riders, stopped for the night late Saturday afternoon. “To truly experience the Pan-Mass Challenge is hard to put into words.”
New this year is a smartphone app that lets riders track their fund-raising and allows their supporters to follow them on their route. It also has a feature allowing riders to message organizers if they need medical help.
The Pan-Mass Challenge has 12 different routes running through 46 towns across Massachusetts. The longest is 190 miles and lasts two days. Riders started at Sturbridge and Wellesley on Saturday, and another group will start in Bourne on Sunday. The routes end in Provincetown, Bourne, Wellesley, and Foxborough.
With the money, researchers at Dana-Farber conduct experiments and initial trials to attract more federal funding.
Jennifer Meus participated in a clinical trial at Dana-Farber, but it wasn’t successful. She had Stage IV metastatic breast cancer, in which cancerous cells spread to vital organs.
More than 40,000 people in the United States die from this type of breast cancer every year, according to the Metastatic Breast Cancer Network. About 155,000 people suffer from some form of the disease, the group says.
Last year, the Pan-Mass Challenge raised $39 million, organizers say, and the goal is to get to $40 million this year. Oct. 1 is the deadline for donations.