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Firefighters aim to save lives in Wilbraham and on the bike trail

Wendi Denning and Anthony Cerini, firefighters with the Wilbraham Fire Department, will be biking the 111-mile route of this year's Pan-Massachusetts Challenge to raise funds for cancer research and treatment. Reminder Publications submitted photo
By Courtney Llewellyn

Reminder Assistant Editor

WILBRAHAM Firefighters in the Wilbraham Fire Department risk their lives daily to keep others out of harm's way and two of those firefighters are going even farther to help save lives this year by riding in the Pan-Massachusetts Challenge (PMC).

Anthony Cerini of Granby and Wendi Denning of Brimfield will both be riding the 111-mile route from Sturbridge to Bourne during the 2008 PMC. By bicycle, Cerini thinks it will take about 10 hours to complete the course.

Both riders are required to raise at least $3,000 for the PMC. The challenge is an annual bike-a-thon that has been raising money to fight cancer since 1980. In its first year, 36 riders raised $10,200. Last year, 4,960 riders raised $33 million.

There are seven different routes cyclists can tackle on the PMC, which runs through 46 towns in the Commonwealth. The two-day, 190-mile route runs from Sturbridge to Provincetown; the one-day Wellesley route is 47 miles long.

All funds raised go toward cancer research and treatment at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute through the Jimmy Fund.

This will be Cerini's first year riding in the PMC and he said he had two inspirations for joining the event. "In August of 2007, I was watching the coverage of the Pan-Mass Challenge on New England Cable News. As I saw hundreds of participants making their way to the finish line, I was inspired by the fact that all of these riders had come together to raise money to fight cancer," he wrote in his fundraising letter. "It was then that I started to think that I should do more than just watch from home."

His other inspiration was his mother, who passed away in 2002 at the age of 79 after battling various forms of cancer for the past 27 years.

"I'm excited about the ride," Cerini told Reminder Publications. "I always finish what I put my mind to."

The fundraising, not the bike riding, has been the hardest part for the firefighter. Although he has until October to reach his $3,000 goal, he has gathered only $1,800 so far. The fundraising aspect may keep him from riding again next year, but he said he will definitely support the cause again.

Denning, in her second year participating in the PMC, is having that same issue. "Cancer research is important to Massachusetts," she said. "It does wonders to help people out."

The PMC is more personal for Denning this year than it was last year, though.

"My first year, I rode in honor of people that I knew of [who were fighting cancer]," she said. "Since last August, eight people I know personally have been diagnosed. There are quite a few people I'll be riding for."

Three of those people include one current and two former Wilbraham firefighters.

"Riding in the PMC is extremely emotional," Denning noted. "It's harder than anything I imagined could be. [Last year] at mile 85, I stopped, sat down in a driveway and bawled like a baby. This old guy came out from his house and gave me some water." It was kindness like that that kept her going.

"I'm so happy I did it," she said. "Just meeting the people out there and seeing the kids with signs makes it all worth it."

"It's a great effort," Fire Chief Fran Nothe said. "It really hits home this year because of those from our department battling cancer."

Cerini and Denning both thanked all those who have supported their cause so far and all those who will do so.

To donate to Cerini's fundraising campaign, visit and enter eGift ID AC0179. To donate to Denning, use eGift ID WD0030.

The 2008 PMC will be taking place Aug. 1 through 3, with an opening ceremony taking place on Aug. 1 that will be televised on NECN.