When Angus McQuilken walked out of his family’s home in Wellesley and toward his green Ford Expedition early last month, he noticed that his preferred set of wheels was missing. The white 2009 Trek 1.5 bicycle he had strapped to the back of his SUV the night before was gone.
He searched his garage and found nothing. He scoured the town, hoping someone had dropped it in plain sight, but came away empty-handed. It had been stolen, McQuilken was certain, and he was devastated.
The bike had greater value to him than whatever its 62-centimeter frame and components held on the market. It was a gift from his wife, Victoria Budson, five years ago, not long after he was released from Newton-Wellesley Hospital following colon-cancer surgery.
“It was a survival present,” McQuilken said. “It was more than just a bicycle to me.”
Undaunted and unwilling to miss a day on the road, McQuilken went to the International Bicycle Center shop in Newton that day and purchased a newer model.
“I upgraded to a faster bike, which I’m enjoying very much,” McQuilken said. “It’s not the same, but I’m growing attached to it very quickly.”
McQuilken, 43, is preparing to use his new Trek Domane for this weekend’s Pan-Massachusetts Challenge, a ride that will serve as a personal milestone for him and his family. When he takes off from Sturbridge on Saturday for the two-day, 192-mile route that ends in Provincetown, he will be celebrating his fifth year free of cancer, and his fifth consecutive ride as a “Living Proof’’ cyclist.
‘I’m like a five-year-old who’s looking to get out and play. If it’s raining out, I’m staring out at the window longingly, hoping for the clouds to lift.’
In 2008, when McQuilken was diagnosed, he made it his goal to participate in the PMC to help raise money and awareness for the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.
Though he rarely rode and did not consider himself a bicyclist when he made his goal, there was little doubt in his mind he would achieve it.
“In the hospital he told me, ‘I’m going to get better and ride in the PMC,’ ” Budson said. “He’s an uber-competitor. If he sets his mind to something, he’s going to do it.”
McQuilken decided that taking up cycling was not going to be his only significant life change following surgery; he changed jobs, too.
After serving as chief of staff to Cheryl Jacques when she was a state senator, and running unsuccessfully to succeed her in 2004, when he lost to Republican Scott Brown, McQuilken was vice president for public affairs at the Planned Parenthood League of Massachusetts when he was diagnosed.
After his release from the hospital, he had a desire to contribute to the field of life sciences, and took a position at the Massachusetts Life Sciences Center as its vice president for communications.
He bicycles to his Waltham office nearly every day when the weather allows. On a rainy morning last week, eight days before the PMC’s start, he ate breakfast at Captain Marden’s in Wellesley and was disappointed that he may miss his routine 9-mile ride into work.
“I’m like a five-year-old who’s looking to get out and play,” he said. “If it’s raining out, I’m staring out at the window longingly, hoping for the clouds to lift.”
Over the last several months, McQuilken threw himself into his training. In June, he rode 148 miles from South Boston to Windsor, Vt., as part of Harpoon’s Brewery to Brewery ride. Last month he joined the Climb to the Clouds ride up Mount Wachusett.
At the PMC, McQuilken will ride for the fourth time with Team Kermit, which raises money for the Jared Branfman Sunflowers for Life Fund, which supports pediatric brain- and spinal-cancer research at Dana-Farber’s Jimmy Fund Clinic. Made up of more than 50 riders from seven states, Team Kermit has several strong cyclists.
McQuilken — still relatively new to the sport — hopes to finish among them.
“The only way to improve as a cyclist is by riding a lot and by riding with cyclists that are faster and stronger and better,” said Team Kermit founder and captain Steven Branfman, Jared’s father. “That’s what Angus does, and he’s just become an awesome rider.”
While McQuilken is hoping to make his fifth PMC his fastest, it has been yet another strong year in terms of his fund-raising efforts. Since his first year as a participant in the ride, he has raised more than $31,000.
McQuilken also serves as vice president of the New England Coalition for Cancer Survivorship, and after the PMC’s first day — a 110-mile leg that ends in Bourne — he will deliver a champagne toast along with PMC founder and executive director Billy Starr at an event that is cosponsored by the coalition to honor his fellow Living Proof riders and volunteers.
During the several hours that he pedals south on Saturday, he will compose the toast in his head, eager to share the excitement he feels to celebrate a healthy life with fellow survivors.
“For all of us to have that opportunity to be together is special,” McQuilken said. “It’s really a moving moment for everyone involved.”
There have been no leads on the whereabouts of McQuilken’s Trek 1.5, despite a police report that has been filed and a plea to the local cycling community that has reached across the state.
Though he may be without the bike on which he completed his first four PMC rides, the joy of celebrating a fifth year of health far outweighs the sentimental loss. At the five-year cancer-free mark, McQuilken said, a survivor has a significantly reduced chance of a recurrence.
“This year when I cross the finish line,” he said, “I’m going to feel like I made it through.”