My Cycling Life: Crossing Massachusetts to Beat Cancer
Jay Mauro was only 23 years old when he was diagnosed with testicular cancer. Luckily, the disease was caught early and a successful treatment programme with good cure rates meant he was able to recover. Tragically, just months after his mother had helped him through his cancer treatment, she was diagnosed with late stage breast cancer and lost her fight shortly after.
Two decades and two kids later, Jay has ridden the Pan Massachusetts Challenge (PMC) – a demanding 192-mile-bike-a-thon held across two days – an eye-watering 10 times. The challenge, founded in 1980, raises more money than any other athletic fundraising event in the country. It’s also special because it donates 100% of every rider-raised dollar to the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston. Over the years, PMC cyclists have raised more than $547 million for cancer research.
Jay has personally raised $83,000 for cancer research and awareness and started a cycling team that now boasts 25 like-minded riders. Together, they have raised $375,000 for the effort. Jay vows to ride for as long as he physically can to continue to raise money in the hope of generating funds to help find a cure for cancer.
What impact did cancer have on you and your family?
I was 23 when I was diagnosed. I was shocked, but I went through surgery and treatment and beat it. I was young and, although it was a serious situation, I didn't fully appreciate the devastating nature of the disease until my mom, Diane Mauro, was diagnosed with cancer just months after taking care of me through my ordeal. She had late stage breast cancer and lost her fight in July of 1995, just five months after her diagnosis. It was a very difficult time for myself, my dad and my two younger siblings. Cancer changed my perspective in a lot of ways. I wasn't bitter or angry, but I had lots of questions.
I still don't have the answers, but I know there’s a lot that we can do to help fight this killer. My biggest realisation through all of this is that there’s very little you can control in your environment, but the things you can should be aimed at making a difference. Whether it's to lead a healthier lifestyle or to help raise money for ongoing research in the battle against cancer – you can make a difference.
How did you get back in to exercising after your diagnosis and treatment?
I’d been into sports my whole life and played soccer at college level. But after the cancer I had lost a lot of weight and muscle. After a 10-year break from any real activity and two kids later, I found myself 30 pounds heavier with a bad back. At 35, it hurt to play soccer so instead I started cycling with my father-in-law, Bart, who is an avid cyclist. I began riding more and, after about a year, I found the courage to wear a proper ‘bike kit’.
I dropped some weight and started running. I really enjoyed biking and running so I added swimming to the rotation and entered my first triathlon at 36 years old. I then did an Ironman at 40. Turns out, years of soccer had helped me develop a pretty good endurance engine.
My friends give me hassle and say I used to be good at sports but now I’m just good at exercise! The reality is that endurance training really keeps me going… it’s a natural source of energy. If my fitness routine slips, I get tired and am not pleasant. My wife will tell me to go for a run or a ride.
Did you ever imagine yourself completing a triathlon or Ironman when you were younger?
Absolutely not. I played soccer my entire life, through college and into my thirties. I was an athlete who played the game… running and biking was just a way to train.Between running, swimming and cycling, which do you prefer, and do you find you associate them with different moods? i.e. you go for a run when you’re stressed and hop on the bike for leisure.
No question about it, when I’m stressed or having a hard time thinking something through I prefer to run… it just helps me sort things out. When I have three hours to kill and nothing else to do, I love to go for a long road ride or mountain bike and put in some decent hard interval efforts. Pain is temporary, but good for perspective. Swimming… well, I have to swim because the consequences are pretty bad if that part of the race goes sideways!
How has running helped with your mental wellbeing? You said that it helps clear your mind and disentangle your thoughts?
Yes, for some reason when I am running my mind is clear and difficult situations at work or home don’t seem so difficult. My better ideas and decisions often start on the run.
You completed the Pan Massachusetts Challenge for the first time at 37 years old. How was that?
It was really hard! Prior to my first PMC I had only ridden 100 miles once. Getting on the bike for the second day was painful but I remember feeling blessed to be able to experience it as a healthy ‘survivor’.
Team Marshfield Rams Cancer
You’ve done it 10 years in a row now, does the 190 miles in two days get any easier?
No, not really. As you can imagine I have ridden the PMC in really great shape and not so great shape (and many shades of in between). The bottom line is that 190 miles over two days is never easy.
What motivates you through each mile of a challenge like that?
That’s easy. My mom. Seeing how far we have come in the fight against cancer and all the progress that’s being made daily is very motivating. I know that any woman in my mom’s situation today would live. Her family would not have to go through what my family went through 25 years ago and I get to contribute to that.
Can you tell us a bit more about your team that has raised $375,000 for cancer research?
Team Marshfield Rams Cancer is a group of friends, family, classmates and even survivors, who all have the common roots of either growing up or living in Marshfield, Massachusetts, or they just happen to like the town! The Marshfield town mascot is a ram which symbolises the strength and perseverance needed to fight and beat cancer (and complete the ride!)
It’s our fourth year riding as a team and we are growing in both the number of riders and the amount of dollars raised. While we all have stories and ride to beat all forms of cancer, our recent ‘Ram Cancer’ efforts have focused on paediatric oncology.Courtesy of the Pan-Mass Challenge
What advice do you have for those who think they’re incapable of returning to exercise after two kids and a 10-year break?
Think about those who don’t, physically, have the option and get back into it. Being able to exercise and challenge yourself to a stretch goal, whether it’s your first 5k, half-marathon or triathlon, is a privilege.
Do you have any new challenges on the horizon?
Do you have any favourite routes to cycle on the East Coast?
I live in Marin county now, just north of San Francisco. Any cyclist visiting the area should seek the “Alpine Dam Loop”. It’s an epic ride through redwoods and along the coast covering 35 miles with over 3,000ft of elevation.
In loving memory of Diane Mauro.