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Powered by a mission to find a cancer cure

A family's health history motivates Pan Mass team

Team POWERcure’s Steve Sexton and Peter Hancock climb the dunes of Race Point in 2007 as they neared the Pan Mass finish in Provincetown. Courtesy photo. (click for larger version)
July 22, 2009
STURBRIDGE — Of the thousands of riders in the annual Pan Mass Challenge (PMC), few have the luxury of beginning the ride from their backyard.

For Sturbridge resident Steve Sexton, that is the only luxury the PMC affords. All the rest is hard work.

Sexton is the founder of team POWERcure, which participated in its first PMC as an official team in 2004.

Sexton's first ride was in 2003. His motivation was his mother.

"My mother passed away from cancer the summer prior," Sexton said.

During her illness, Sexton, now 37, began to research his family's medical history for the first time. Through talking to relatives, Sexton learned that nearly all of his aunts and uncles, and his grandmother, has all dealt with different types of cancer.

"It was a major wakeup call," he said.

Before his mother's passing, Sexton vowed to her that he would, in some way, put a significant effort toward fighting cancer.

He found his way in the PMC, one of the largest single event fundraisers for cancer research in the world, donating $35 million to the Dana Farber Cancer Institute in 2008 alone. The 2009 ride, on Aug. 1-2, will be the 30th PMC ride.

For the 2003 ride, Sexton said he was joined by a handful of coworkers who participated, "all for our own emotional reasons," explaining that each of them had lost people in their lives to cancer.

Along that first ride, Sexton's dedication to the PMC was solidified by a chance encounter with one spectator.

Out of a group of young Dana Farber patients, Sexton said one little boy held up a sign asking riders to stop for him.

"He just comes up to me and gives me a hug and says, 'you're my hero,'" Sexton said. "The most compelling part of the PMC for me is the kids now," he continued.

After that first year, Sexton and his crew formally established team POWERcure and have been riding in the PMC ever since.

"I think at our peak, we probably had 15 riders," he said. "This year we have 12."

So far, team POWERcure has raised a quarter of a million dollars, but that Sexton said, is just a drop in the bucket compared to their overall goal.

"We've made a pretty good go of it so far," he said. "Right now, our vision is set on that first million."

POWERcure has a new motivation this year to help keep the pedals turning and the fundraising efforts going: Cate Cosgrove.

Cosgrove is a 5-year-old cancer patient that has been paired up with team POWERcure as their pedal partner, which Sexton described as, "an anchor person that you're riding for."

Sexton said that a byproduct of all the energy he and those around him put into the PMC each year, he along with another member of POWERcure and two additional team supports, formed the band Eleventhour.

Keeping his commitment to his mother in his mind at all times, Sexton said the band, which plays a mixture of original music and cover songs from a number of different genres, has been playing shows throughout Massachusetts, with the proceeds going toward POWERcure's annual donation to Dana Farber.

Sexton, the drummer of Eleventhour, said the band played in Boston back in May, and another in Milford last week.

Eleventhour will be performing at another show to benefit Dana Farber at 8 p.m. on Aug. 21 at the Sturbridge Host Hotel. There is no cover charge for the show, but donations are obviously welcomed. The band is also seeking donations of items to be raffled at the show.

Sexton said the band is currently planning a "Rocktober Fest," for later in the year as well.

"You pretty much, in some way, shape or form, prepare for this all year," he said.

Another pursuit of team POWERcure is to establish a permanent PMC kids ride in Sturbridge. Last year, kids' rides throughout the state brought in approximately $400,000 for the PMC.

Sexton said the continued efforts are all part of a push, "to be an extension of what the PMC does."

With a lofty fundraising goal of ahead of them, Sexton said team POWERcure will continue striving to make as big of a difference as they can.

"At the end of the day," Sexton said, "I'm just fulfilling a promise."

For more information on team POWERcure or Eleventhour visit www.TeamPowerCure.com.

News staff writer Christopher Tanguay may be reached at (508) 909-4132, or by e-mail at ctanguay@stonebridgepress.com.

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