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March 2015

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Boston Retiree, Union Leaders Hit the
Bikes to Help Beat Cancer

The road to finding a cure for cancer is both long and winding. And for the last three decades, Charles "Mickey" Rooney has taken that road — 192 miles at a time.

Since 1981, the 76-year-old former president of Boston Local 104 has made a yearly trek across the Bay State by participating in the two-day Pan-Mass Challenge bicycle ride. The event serves as an annual fundraiser for the Dana Farber Cancer Institute, one of the leading research and treatment facilities dedicated to finding a cure for the disease that kills more than 500,000 Americans annually.

Back then, Rooney and his family had never fashioned themselves as hardcore cyclists, he said. "We would go riding around Cape Cod, Gloucester, a few other places." But following his mother's cancer diagnosis, and hearing about the Pan-Mass, which began in 1980, Rooney decided to go all in.

"In the early days, you'd just raise a few hundred dollars and camp out during the ride," he said. But the event, like its appeal, has grown by leaps and bounds. Last year, 5,500 riders from across the country, each committing to raise thousands from individual fundraising, took the Pan-Mass annual donation levels north of $40 million for the first time. Not bad, considering during the event's first decade, riders raised just shy of $400,000 in all.

"Today, you have to commit to raising about $5,000 per person to enter," Rooney said. Relying on the support of family, friends, colleagues and contacts in the Boston community, Rooney always easily clears this hurdle and has raised more than $100,000 during his decades with the event. It's also become a family affair, with Rooney's children and — once they were old enough — grandchildren participating.

This year's Aug. 1-2 ride may be the capstone of Rooney's cycling career. After initially saying in 2014 that he was hanging up his cleats, "I'm going to do one more," he said, with one caveat: "I've been saying that every year for a while now," he said with a laugh.

Either way, Rooney's efforts to pass the torch to a new group have begun paying off. Last year, Rooney drafted two local leaders to participate: President Ryan Demeritt, 36, and Treasurer/Assistant Business Manager Hugh Boyd, 48.

Boyd likened it to a "motivational challenge" in a Local Lines article he wrote for the December 2014 issue of The Electrical Worker highlighting the race. Though he had done the ride in 1991, he said that he had gotten away from cycling and looked forward to the chance to get back into the saddle.

"We had to go buy bikes, gear, shoes — everything," Boyd said. "This was a whole new adventure for Ryan and I."

Demeritt said that he had training assistance and inspiration from one of his neighbors, who helped get him in the habit of waking at 4 a.m. to tackle 30 miles of road several times a week.

For Rooney — who's logged about 5,000 miles on Pan-Mass rides — there was no crash training or special routine. "You just get on the bike and do it," Rooney said. "It's time consuming, but you have to just make time for it and get to the gym." He makes a point of taking long rides each weekend, year round, to prepare.

Then there's the ride itself. Starting in Sturbridge about 60 miles west of Boston, riders tackle difficult hills as they thread their way east toward Cape Cod, then north up the peninsula the next day toward the finish line in coastal Provincetown.

"There's no way to really describe doing the ride — it's just such a high," Rooney said. "You're out there with thousands of riders who are there for the same reason, and people are along the side of the road waving, spraying you with hoses to keep cool. It's almost selfish to go do it. You feel like Ted Williams when he would hit a home run," referring to the famed Boston Red Sox power hitter who racked up more than 500 home runs before retiring in 1960.

Demeritt agreed that the camaraderie of the event is a high point. "It's not a race — you're just trying to complete it. It's great to see people holding signs and cheering for you."

One of the most memorable — and motivating — moments of the ride comes toward the end, Demeritt said, when sponsors and volunteers line the road holding pictures of children who are battling cancer, while encouraging the riders to complete the trek. "To see what these kids are battling — it just keeps you going," he said. "You stop thinking about your tired legs and just remember why you did this, why you raised the money in the first place."

For Rooney, the Pan-Mass has become increasingly meaningful. He lost his wife, Dorsey, to cancer in 2006, and he has been riding in her memory ever since. Rooney also donates blood platelets numerous times a year. It's a two-hour process, and it provides blood-clotting cells needed for patients undergoing cancer treatments, as well as more than a dozen whole blood donations for transfusions.

Rooney joined the IBEW in 1963 after his term of service in the Marine Corps. The lineman by trade served as local president for much of the 1990s. He said his pension helps him have the time to do the kinds of training and fundraising necessary to complete the Pan-Mass Challenge year after year.

Local 104 leadership has actively started recruiting a team for 2015 and hopes to have at least 10 participants. Interested members are encouraged to call the local union.

Learn more about the ride and its fundraising mission at


Former Boston Local 104 President Charles 'Mickey' Rooney has raised more than $100,000 for cancer research via the annual Pan-Mass Challenge bicycle ride. Local President Ryan Demeritt, left, and Treasurer/Assistant Business Manager Hugh Boyd hit the road with Rooney for last year's event.