Team of CHS alums prepares for Pan-Mass Challenge fundraiser

Members of the Ocean State Cancer Crushers team are pictured during a send-off party Sunday, one week before participating in the Pan-Mass Challenge. The fundraiser is held annually to benefit the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, where Paul Hartley, a member of the team and Coventry High School alumnus, has been receiving treatment for stage-four kidney cancer. 

 

Paul Hartley was one day shy of turning 50 when he received a diagnosis that would change his life. 

It’s been just over a year and a half since Hartley, a 1989 graduate of Coventry High School, learned he has cancer. And as he gears up to ride in the Pan-Mass Challenge, he’s excited for the opportunity to show just how much the lifesaving care he’s been given at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute has meant to him. 

“I wanted to somehow give back,” the father of two said Sunday during a send-off party at Allen Harbor Marina in North Kingstown. “These are the people that are saving my life.”

This weekend, Hartley and his team, the Ocean State Cancer Crushers, will pedal 100 miles through Massachusetts during the challenge, an annual fundraiser to benefit cancer care and research at Dana-Farber. 

Touted as Dana-Farber’s single largest supporter, the Pan-Mass Challenge has raised $831 million for the Boston-based institution since 1980; the goal of this year's event is to raise $66 million. 

For Hartley, who has directly benefited from those donations, it was the encouragement of a lifelong friend paired with his desire to give back that convinced him to participate in the 2022 ride.  

In January of 2021, following a trip to the emergency room with what he had assumed was a urinary tract infection, Hartley was diagnosed with stage 4 renal cell carcinoma. 

Hartley and his wife Sharon, also a graduate of Coventry High School, were on their way to Dana-Farber for Hartley’s infusion therapy several months later when he received a text message from Shawn Fagan, his friend of more than four decades. 

Fagan, who began supporting the Pan-Mass Challenge as a sponsor in 2013 and has been riding in it since 2019, had been reaching out to invite Hartley to join him in the following year’s fundraiser.

“I’m like, ‘you know what? That’s how we’re going to give back,’” Hartley recalled saying. 

The nonprofit Ocean State Cancer Crushers was founded with the mission of “inspir[ing] philanthropy towards the elimination of cancer through research, treatment, and support,” according to its website. Even after this week’s Pan-Mass Challenge, the organization will continue to hold several fundraisers per year to support the cause. 

The Hartleys, Fagan and the rest of the Ocean State Cancer Crushers team — most of whom are Coventry High School alumni — have covered countless miles training for the bike-a-thon. 

Wearing jerseys reminiscent of those once worn by Hartley and Fagan as varsity football players at Coventry High School, the team has been covering between 150 and 200 miles weekly in preparation for the challenge. Their rides have taken them through South County, along the East Bay Bike Path, and across western Coventry. 

On the morning of the send-off party, the team cycled some 50 miles between Exeter and the Point Judith Lighthouse.

Fagan has long been passionate about supporting the Pan-Mass Challenge, he said Sunday. 

“The money that they raise every year is just incredible,” Fagan said, wearing a red and white jersey with “Coventry Oakers” printed on the sleeve. 

But the event has taken on a new significance for him since Hartley’s cancer diagnosis. 

Friends since they were six years old, Fagan and Hartley would go on to play football together as students at Coventry High School. They understood then the importance of teamwork, Fagan said, and more than 30 years later the friends are once again working as a team — this time, with the goal of beating cancer. 

Part of his hope in encouraging Hartley to participate in the challenge, Fagan added, was that the training would have a positive impact on his friend’s health. 

“Being healthier, getting in good shape — that beats cancer,” said Fagan, who himself has lost 50 pounds since his first time riding in the Pan-Mass Challenge three years ago. 

Hartley’s sister is also part of the 12-member Ocean State Cancer Crushers team.

Resilience has always been one of Hartley’s strengths, Paula Hartley DeRuosi said, adding that she’s been inspired by her younger brother’s optimism in the face of his diagnosis. 

“It’s amazing how he just has that fight in him to do this,” DeRuosi said. “He loves his doctor, and he really believes that they’re going to save his life at Dana-Farber.”

Since receiving his cancer diagnosis, Hartley has had a kidney removed and will soon undergo radiation for a couple of remaining tumors.

DeRuosi is grateful for those who have stuck by Hartley since high school, and who have rallied around him as he’s gone through his cancer treatments, she added.   

Hartley, too, has appreciated the support he’s been given by the friends who have been in his life for decades. 

“It’s a great feeling,” he said Sunday afternoon, several of his fellow Cancer Crushers standing around him. “It’s overwhelming.” 

The Ocean State Cancer Crushers have raised $100,000 as of this week. To donate to the team's cause, visit oceanstatecancercrushers.org

kgravelle@ricentral.com

 

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