By Kristi Norgaard
My Mother's Challenge
A daughter pursues her mother’s passion—and carries her mom’s memory on the ride
By Kristi Norgaard
That’s me in the foreground: red bike helmet, 2004 Pan-Massachusetts Challenge (PMC) cycling jersey. My dad is in the background, also dressed in bike gear, bear-hugging my mom.
In summers before this photograph was taken, I rode with my mom in the PMC twice, covering hundreds of miles across Massachusetts to raise money for cancer research. My brother rode with her as well. My mom, in total, rode seven times, raising more than $80,000. She was supposed to ride in 2004, too. And that year, for the first time, my dad signed up to ride with her.
But that March, four months before the ride, my mom called me to say she didn’t think she could ride. She was really disappointed. She’d had breast cancer since 1991 and was in and out of remission for years, but in the year or two leading up to 2004, things started to change: The cancer was progressing rapidly. The treatments were awful, but there wasn’t much else we could do. When she called me, I knew she was really hurting.
My mom was a serious cyclist and inspired me to be the same. I think she phoned me purposefully because she knew what my reaction would be. “Don’t worry mom—I’ll ride for you!” just fell out of my mouth without a thought.
I’d ridden the PMC with my mom before, and I’m a pretty dedicated cyclist on my own. Still, preparing for a 192-mile, two-day ride with just a few months to train was a daunting task for me. But I said I would do it, and that was that. I called my dad the next day and told him I was coming up from New York to visit him in Massachusetts the next weekend. We’d train together. He was pleased, and by August, after months of intense training, we were ready.
Everyone in my family is a PMC veteran. In addition to all the times my mom, brother and I rode, my sister and dad also helped out along the route. This was the first year, however, that my mom wasn’t riding. When I decided to ride for her, it was too late to change her name on the registration, so I proudly rode under her name, with her ID tags on the bike and bags. I even wore her jersey.
She, however, drew the line when it came to letting me ride her bike. My bike isn’t a clunker, but it has been around the block a few times. Her bike was beautiful: carbon fiber, with aero-bars, nice pedals, clean, perfect. My bike is steel, it’s old, the paint is chipping off, the pedals are pathetic—but it fits me and I do, actually, love it.
The ride with dad was exhilarating. We had great weather and minimal bike trouble. Our family, my mom included, greeted us at the finish line after the first day with big signs and loud cheers. I think my dad and I were both crying. Seeing mom there in her pink baseball cap and favorite Cape Cod sweatshirt—and the pride in her eyes—really turned on the waterworks.
Approaching the finish line on the second day, we were exhausted, but also excited that it was over, and all smiles. My mom and the rest of the family were again cheering us on. Beyond them were blown-up pictures of other cancer survivors: both children and adults. When my dad and I crossed the finish line, a man grabbed my arm, looked straight at me, and said, “You’re doing this. You’re helping them!” It really moved me. I had not thought of my work or the amount of money we had all raised as going toward anyone else but my mom.
A few months after the ride, it was time to sign up for the 2005 PMC. Usually my mom was right on it and did early registration. But by then, I think she knew that the 2004 PMC had been “her” last. The next year, 2005, was beautiful and it was horrible. My mom was present at the birth of her first grandchild, my daughter, but my mom died of complications from breast cancer a few months later. I think of her all the time, but especially when I’m out on my bike and it’s warm and sunny, like those long-ago August days at the PMC. When I look back at the pictures from that time, I’m glad she called and asked me to ride for her. I would do it all over again.