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Globe North Sports

Danvers couple among many in emotional Pan-Mass

By Sapna Pathak
Globe Correspondent / August 11, 2011

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On a hill just outside Bourne, Ashley Bobrek saw the sign: “Because of You, I am 20.’’

Riding in her first Pan-Massachusetts Challenge last Sunday morning, she was brought to tears upon reading the words, held up by her younger sister, Kerri Carleton.

The 26-year-old Danvers resident completed the two-day, 192-mile bike ride from Sturbridge to Provincetown in support of cancer research and treatment at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute through the Jimmy Fund.

Bobrek joined her husband, John (his sixth PMC), in one of the world’s largest and most successful fund-raising cycling events.

She has had relatives and friends who have succumbed to, and survived, cancer. This summer, she followed through on her personal promise to complete the grueling ride for Kerri.

With Carleton and about 30 other friends and family on hand, the Bobreks, along with John’s uncle, Marc Burke, and a friend, Rick Castrion, were cheered on as they passed the group on their way to the finish line in Provincetown on Sunday.

“I saw her sign and it was pretty emotional,’’ said Ashley Bobrek.

“I tried to hold it back but it really was overwhelming to remember why I was out there and what this whole thing is all about. The Jimmy Fund and Dana-Farber saved my sister; I have my sister because of them, and this was just one thing I could do to help pay it forward.’’

A nurse at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Bobrek committed to the PMC in early January, when riders sign up and promise each to raise a minimum of $4,200.

Although the desire to ride as husband and wife materialized a few years ago, the couple needed to make sure they were in financial shape to meet the minimum number.

“I’ve raised around seven grand each year,’’ said John Bobrek. “We knew our minimum would be $8,400, so we just wanted to make sure it was feasible for both of us to be there. We knew either way we would either put in the rest ourselves, or give to another team or rider if we met our goal. This cause is too important not to.’’

When Carleton was 13, she was diagnosed with non-Hodgkins lymphoma, a cancer of the lymphatic tissue including the spleen and lymph nodes along with other organs of the immune system. She was successfully treated. Now 20, she is studying nursing at Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences in Boston.

In May, Bobrek’s uncle, David Kelley, was diagnosed with lung cancer and is currently receiving treatment at Dana-Farber.

A former athlete at Bishop Fenwick, Bobrek began her training last fall, taking indoor spinning classes about three times per week. After the winter, she and John changed to outdoor rides, spending one morning a week on long routes.

Despite consistent physical training and the proper mental motivation, the group still faced challenges on the second day of the ride.

“Everything that could go wrong, mechanically, did,’’ said John Bobrek.

“We had popped tires, broken chains, and Ashley’s bike’s gear broke so she traded with my uncle, who rode the final 80 miles in one gear. Despite the late finish, it was all worth it.

“There’s so much support from people along the route. You see kids missing their hair along the sidelines, and knowing they’re going through a process so much tougher, it makes a two-day bike ride seem like nothing.’’

On Monday, they were back at work, Ashley with sore legs and tired arms. The discomfort, however, comes with no regrets.

“This was the least we could do for the Jimmy Fund,’’ she said. “They do so much for so many people and bring so much positivity into the world. More people need to be sick and tired of seeing friends and loved ones fall to cancer. The more people who do, the more we raise and the more we help fight this disease.’’

Sapna Pathak can be reached at sportsgalsp@gmail.com.