VERONA, NJ - A Verona resident is taking on a tough challenge and biking almost 200 miles to raise money for a good cause.

Rich Watts, 31, of Verona, is excited to be participating in the Pan-Mass Challenge August 4 and August 5 in Massachusetts to help raise money for the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.

"I have never done the Pan Mass before, and I expect it to be a real challenge," Watts said. "I have only really been riding for about two months."

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Watts got involved with the bike-a-thon through his job at Eisai, which is one of the sponsors of the event; he and his coworkers are riding in honor of a brave, young girl named Hannah who is fighting Leukemia at Dana Farber and has been receiving treatment there since 2017.

"Her father will actually be riding part of this race with us, and the fact that Hannah's family can be so determined and fight so fiercely is extremely inspiring," Watts said. "We can all certainly learn a lot from her courage every single day."

Watts himself does not have a personal connection to the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute but knows the feeling of losing someone to cancer, a feeling he said everyone can relate to. Watts will be riding for his best friend's mother who recently died of cancer and who was like another mother to him and his friends growing up, and for all of the other lives lost to the disease.

While that is the biggest reason Watts wants to participate, he said it is the challenge that also makes him want to bike the 192-mile route he and his group chose to take. The 12 route options range from 25 to 192 miles and start in Sturbridge, M.A. Watts' 192-mile route runs from Sturbridge to Provincetown, M.A. and is the longest one participants were able to choose from.

To prepare for his upcoming 192-mile bike, Watts has been keeping active and completing shorter rides with some friends.

"I try and get to the gym everyday, but I have been on a few training rides with some of the people I will be riding with," Watts said. "We've been up to Harriman for some hilly rides, and recently rode from Oradell out to the Tappan Zee and back.  Most of the routes I've done are only 30 to 40 miles so I think the race itself will be a true grind."

It is also Watts' support system that will be getting him through the bike-a-thon. One person who will be cheering Watts on is his wife, who will be supporting him from home because she is pregnant; she and Watts are expecting a baby girl in December. The couple just recently moved to Verona in November after getting married in October and Watts said they already love the town.

"I have to admit that so far we love being in this town," Watts said. "The new dog park is fantastic, and whether it's Verona Inn or a number of other great places, there are some really enjoyable restaurants to eat and have a pint around town.  We look forward to making this town our home."

Verona is excited too to have one of their very own participating in such an important event. Since 1980, the event has raised $598 million towards pediatric and adult cancer care and research at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and is the largest single contributor to the institute. In 2017 alone, $51 million was raised through the event, and for 2018, the PMC has set a goal of $52 million. This year, alongside Watts, more than 6,300 cyclists from 43 states and ten countries, and over 4,000 volunteers, will be participating in the bike-a-thon; over 900 of those riders and volunteers are cancer survivors or current patients.

Watts is excited for this upcoming challenge and above all, hopes that it will raise funds and awareness for the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.

"The research and treatment done by Dana Farber is phenomenal and this event has raised almost $600 million since it started in 1980," Watts said. "Hopefully we can keep the momentum going."

To donate to Watts' fundraising efforts, visit http://pmc.org/egifts/RW0175.

TAPinto Verona/Cedar Grove  is an online newspaper serving the Townships of Verona and Cedar Grove. TAPinto Verona/Cedar Grove is accredited by the New Jersey Press Association, and is a locally owned news organization serving the community.

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