Family and friends tell Sarah R. Marchisio she is her mother’s twin. The 19-year-old University of Vermont physical therapy major has her mom’s eyes, her smile, her personality, they say.
Her kid brother, Christian Marchisio, 17, has his dad’s firm handshake and business mind, and skills in the kitchen.
Both Rochester residents are riding in the 34th annual Pan-Massachusetts Challenge Saturday and Sunday, a grueling 190-mile bicycle ride from Sturbridge to Provincetown, which since it began has raised $375 million, with the money going to the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute through the Jimmy Fund.
Both are riding for the cause and in memory of their parents: Nancy A. Marchisio, who died from cervical cancer at age 54 three years ago, and Richard S. Marchisio Jr., who died at 49 from a heart attack in March 2012, a few weeks after he started training to ride that year’s race with his daughter. They also ride for their aunt, Maura Scanlon-McRae, who died from breast cancer in 1995.
The siblings got their love of riding, and life’s adventures, from their parents, with Sarah saying of the ride, “there’s no better way to marry two causes together; finding a cure to cancer and continuing the passion of riding my dad passed to us.”
Last year, Sarah rode the race, despite losing her father months earlier, the team raising $17,000. This year, Team ON A Mission, the capitalized N-A-M being her mom’s initials, aims to raise $52,000. The team is composed of nine college students, two seniors at Old Rochester Regional High School, and the school district’s athletic director. It will be Sarah’s second ride, her brother’s first.
The siblings have their moments of grief over their loss, but they remain positive and upbeat, they said, dedicating themselves to the cause. Talking about their parents, they brightened up.
“She was a stay-at-home mom,” Christian said, adding proudly, “She had three degrees, in respiratory therapy, biochemistry, and health-care administration.”
“She did most of the child-raising,” his sister added. “My dad had his own insurance agency in New Bedford. Mom was the epitome of amazing.”
The children now live with their guardians in Rochester, who were their parents’ best friends at Providence College.
The Marchisio clan loved to travel the world, and skiing the West and New Hampshire. No sooner did one family adventure begin, Sarah said with a laugh, then her dad was planning others.
“Honestly, we’d be one place and he was already thinking of the next trip,” she said. “He’d plan three trips ahead, we always had something going on.”
Their father didn’t let their mother’s death deter them, continuing their vacations. Wherever they went, as a family of four or three, they stayed away from tourist-oriented places, going to villages and towns, eating in local restaurants, learning various cultures. Richard would also take his kids to New England Aquarium, driving through hard-scrabble parts of Boston, reminding his kids how lucky they were.
During his wife’s year-and-a-half battle with cancer, Richard worked a full day, fought Boston traffic to see her at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, and then again to get home to cook for his kids.
“He was an amazing cook,” said Christian, who loves cooking as well, adding that his favorite dad-cooked meals were pork cutlets, chicken piccata, and steak and onion rings. “Anything he made was delicious.
“I always looked up to him,” he said, adding he’d hoped to go into business with his dad. “Everything he did, I wanted to do.”
Their dad was athletic, playing hockey in college and later skiing and bike riding. He’d lost considerable weight prior to his death, and was in shape, adding to the jarring loss. After he died, his arteries showed almost 80 percent blockage, despite having passed three stress tests in the years prior.
The siblings are also athletes. Sarah is on the UVM crew team. Christian played basketball, lacrosse, and ran cross country at ORR, and will attend Providence College this fall — as his parents did.
Sarah rode last year’s race with the woman she calls her cousin, Beth Peucker, 23, eldest daughter of the guardian family she and her brother live with.
“Two days after my father died,” Sarah said, “Beth signed up, and told me ‘You’re not doing this alone.’ ”
Not doing it alone is part of what drives the nearly 5,500 bikers in the annual event, she said. As a family, the Marchisios would watch participants race by their Rochester home, which was on the route, dousing hot racers with a hose, filling their water bottles, shouting support.
In last year’s race Sarah said, “people were lining the streets, I mean thousands of them.”
Most notably, she said, she saw the support in the eyes of those needing it most.
“You hurt for God knows how long during the race, but then you see these little kids at the side of the road, cancer survivors, saying thanks, saying they’re alive because of you,” she said. “That makes the pain go away.”