As chair of the Wilton Board of Education, Bruce Likly steers the town’s largest single employer and the entity that arguably has the greatest impact on Wilton residents and children.
This coming weekend, Aug. 2-3, he’ll be steering himself on two wheels for a 200-miles bike ride through Massachusetts to raise money to fight cancer. He’s taking part in the Pan Mass Challenge, a two-day bike ride that raises money for the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. He’s hoping people who hear his story will consider contributing to his fundraising efforts.
The last time Likly rode a bike long distance was about 30 years ago. So taking on this 200-mile challenge, he hoped that riding a bike would be like, well, riding a bike. You see biking was something that was part of Likly’s exercise and training regimen 30 years ago. He was a competitive cross-country skier, and biking was part of his cross-training. But back then, the most he’d ever ride was 20-30 miles at a time.
The cause is what drives him now, even 30 years older, to be so committed.
“Turning 50 is an interesting milestone, it gives you the opportunity to reflect and ask, ‘What next?’ Cancer touches all of us. It doesn’t discriminate, and can hit anyone at anytime. We have a close friend whose daughter was diagnosed with leukemia at 2-years-old. My mom had colon cancer, and fortunately lived through that. We sit in church with Lyla [Theoharides]’s family. It’s frustrating, you want to be able to do something. It’s 1-in-8 women that are affected by breast cancer.”
Channeling that motivation, Likly found out about the Pan Mass Challenge from his brother-in-law, who had ridden in the challenge last year.
“Dana-Farber Cancer Institute [in Boston] gets 100-percent of the proceeds. I thought, this makes all the sense in the world.”
To train, he’s had to start taking longer rides whenever he can, almost every day.
“After 30 years of not having ridden at all, it feels like it’s every day,” he jokes.
Ambitiously, he opted to use the same bicycle for the challenge that he used to ride all those years ago.
“I had a bike that I trained on in high school and college, that was hanging in my garage attic. I hadn’t touched it since I put it there, 10 years ago. I hadn’t ridden it for 30 years. I took it to Outdoor Sports, and asked if I was crazy for considering doing it. I said, ‘Can you get the bike in shape?’ They said, ‘We can get the bike in shape…'”
Likly laughs a self-deprecating laugh. “They were incredibly helpful. A guy there, Mike Conlon, talked me through what I needed to focus on, and my biggest fear was riding on the [winding, local] roads. He pointed me to a couple different things, some apps like Map My Ride and Strava. They share local routes that people have found don’t have a lot of traffic. He said to get on the road early in the morning, so I try to get on the road by 5 a.m.”
His training rides have varied, from short rides of 25 miles, to 50 miles on a morning before work, to 80-mile rides on the weekend.
“A couple weeks ago, I did a 100 mile ride by myself. That was not a lot of fun. We were up in Canada, and it was 50 miles out and 50 miles back. It was a beautiful morning on the way out and as soon as I turned around the wind picked up and I had a 15-20 mile-an-hour headwind all the way back home. It was not fun. It took me, like, seven, seven-and-a-half hours. My wife, Beth, texted me she’d have the Advil waiting for me when I got back.” At least he says it with laugh.
It is a physically challenging commitment that Likly is making–he had two knee surgeries last year, and can’t run for exercise as a result. So the biking serves the purpose of being both a fundraising means as well as something that’s helping improve his fitness.
“It’s been strengthening my leg a lot more, to the point that I can do stairs a lot more easily than I was able to before. It’s giving back to me too.”
It’s also something that he can laugh about. When asked if the training gets easier and less painful, Likly laughs. “The first couple of weeks, they were hard on my butt!”
His candor inspires laughter back, and the question, “Can I quote you on that?”
“Absolutely!” he replies.
While training and the actual ride may be challenging, what is easy is donating. All anyone who wants to donate has to do is click on a link to reach Likly’s fundraising page. “The best part about it is 100 percent of the funds goes straight to Dana-Farber. 100 percent!”
What’s also great to learn is that the Pan Mass Challenge is the largest single fundraiser in the country. They’re hoping to raise $40 million from this weekend’s ride alone. “Last year they raised $38 million or $39 million. 5,000 people participate as riders.”