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Pan Mass Challenge Cyclists Meet Inspirational Pedal Partner Patients

BOSTON (CBS) – A kickoff party at Fenway Park on Saturday introduced hundreds of bicyclists to their inspiration for the 192-mile Pan Mass Challenge.

A Boston University freshman, Ashley Cunningham, 19, delivered the keynote speech at the PMC Pedal Partner event. Cunningham, a two-year survivor of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, will volunteer at the PMC water tents this year.

"We were complete strangers, yet we're brought together by this beautiful cause,'" Cunningham said of the cyclists who raised money in her name after her 2012 diagnosis.

Heidi Flood hugs her former Pedal Partner, Ashley Cunningham, who is now in remission. (WBZ-TV)

The 35th PMC will take place in August, raising millions of dollars for cancer treatment and research at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.  More than 5,800 cyclists will participate in the trek across Massachusetts.  The PMC collects more money for charity than any other single athletic fundraising event in the world.

To encourage cyclists to fundraise and train hard, PMC introduced the Pedal Partner Program in 1990.  The program connects cyclists with children who are cancer patients at the Jimmy Fund Clinic.

Cyclist Heidi Flood began riding the PMC five years ago, inspired by her mother's courage in facing ovarian cancer. Flood and her co-workers at Bain Capital were introduced to Cunningham as a Pedal Partner.

"I love Ashley.  Ashley is a really special girl and I'm really proud of her," said Flood of her Pedal Partner turned quasi-little-sister.

Ruby Gans, Heidi Flood's new Pedal Partner. (WBZ-TV)

With Cunningham's cancer in remission, Flood now focuses her PMC season on a new Pedal Partner family, 3-year-old Ruby Gans of Cambridge.

"This is such a good way to make this situation better," said Ruby's mother, Valerie Graf.

The PMC Pedal Partner Program is sponsored by John Hancock. This year PMC cyclists set a goal of raising $40 million for Dana-Farber.


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