Melissa Rides Towards the Pan-Mass Challenge

Melissa Sullivan's upcoming ride in the Pan-Mass Challenge aims to raise $6,000 for cancer research and care in memory of her Uncle Tom.

Melissa Rides Towards the Pan-Mass Challenge
Melissa's radiating smile as she presents her Liv Avail near the Azalea Garden.

On August 5 and 6, Melissa Sullivan will be cycling 192 miles from Sturbridge to Provincetown, MA in the Pan-Mass Challenge (PMC), which donates 100% of rider-raised funds to Boston's Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. This will be her tenth PMC effort and also her first attempt at the long course, coinciding with her father's 25th PMC. Melissa is raising money specifically for pancreatic cancer research and care in honor of her Uncle Tom, who passed away from the disease this winter.

Please visit Melissa's personal site and consider donating to her fundraiser by visiting

After sharing a hearty giggle about accidentally meeting at two different trellises Saturday morning, Melissa and I set out for a quick spin to talk about bikes and how she's using them to make a difference in people's lives.

Pedaling in the cool morning air on winding park roads near historic Rockland Mansion, Melissa described growing up in Westborough, MA and how her grandma's death from cancer led to her first PMC in 2013. While studying in Philadelphia, she completed an internship at Dana-Farber and was inspired by the skill and compassion offered by nurses and doctors who helped people navigate cancer treatment. After school, Melissa stayed in Philadelphia where she still works in community healthcare.

Across the river, we climbed steadily up Greenland Drive to visit the horses at Chamounix Equestrian Center, where Melissa talked about her experience leading Wednesday Night Rides a few weeks ago on July 5. Her ride showcased community gardens and murals of all sizes nestled in the labyrinths of South and North Philly and was inspired by her work volunteering with WWOOF in Longview, WA. The ride attracted over 100 cyclists, pictured here at the Cruz Recreation Center.

Melissa's bike is a Liv Avail that has served her faithfully over the past ten years since her first PMC. It's been on all kinds of rides, including a training ride early this season where she conquered challenging terrain and deep sand in the Pine Barrens of Wharton State Forest on skinny 700x25c tires (she doesn't necessarily recommend trying that). More recently, she completed her first century, a solo trip to New Hope and back featuring thunderstorms and generous strangers who offered water from their cars or fresh towels to clean up with from their rural farmsteads.

Getting around the city, she rides a hand-me-down red Cannondale that came from her mom and has been in the family for 30 years, sustainable transportation at its very finest.

Melissa will pedal the PMC from western Massachusetts, across the state, and up the serpentine moraine of Cape Cod where she'll celebrate her accomplishment on the ferry back to Boston. To prepare, she rides 20 to 30 miles a few times each week while following a training plan provided by a cousin who is a former triathlete and currently coaches. She describes the satisfaction of progressing toward her goal from 50 feet away at the whisper wall adjacent to Smith Memorial Arch in the Centennial District.

We all know someone whose life was changed by cancer. Melissa's response has been to devote her life to compassionate care and her bike has been a powerful tool for change here in Philadelphia and in her native Massachusetts.

This story is dedicated in loving memory to Tom Douglas. Please support Melissa and pancreatic cancer research by donating to her fundraiser at