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Pedal to the mettle: UMDI Deputy Director Eric Heller begins cross-country ride to aid cancer research

This summer, like so many Bay State residents, Eric Heller will be making his annual summer trip to Cape Cod, but unlike most of us, he’ll be arriving by bicycle, from Oregon. On June 1, Heller, the deputy director of the UMass Donahue Institute will begin a 10-week leave of absence, in which he’ll trade his padded swivel chair and view of the Holyoke Range for a bike saddle and a trip that includes a climb over the Rockies.

After nineteen years of participating in the Pan-Mass Challenge, an annual 200 mile bike ride that traverses the state of Massachusetts to raise money for the Jimmy Fund and the Dana Farber Cancer Research Center, Heller decided to add some 3,800 miles, 45 days and 12 states to the mission of fundraising for cancer research with a ride that starts on the shores of the Pacific and ends at the Atlantic beaches of Provincetown.

A cross-country bike trip has been a longtime dream for the avid cyclist, whose weekends are often spent riding the steep hills and country lanes surrounding the Amherst area. Last year, with his sixtieth birthday and twentieth Pan-Mass Challenge approaching, Heller posed the idea to riding partner Bob Newcomb. Newcomb, coach of the UMass women’s swimming and diving team signed on, and together they’ve planned, promoted and fundraised through the creation of “C2C2C2: Coast to Coast to Cure Cancer.”

Both men have a personal investment in the cause; Heller lost his mother to endometrial cancer in 2007 and the disease claimed both of Newcomb’s parents. To date, the men have raised a combined total of more than $120,000 for the PMC. They plan to fundraise the whole way to Provincetown, leaving flyers wherever they can, handing out cards to people they meet, updating Facebook and posting stories and photos to their blog along the route. To follow their journey and support their ride, visit Coast to Coast to Cure Cancer.

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