DANVERS — When cyclists finish their rides on Sunday in the A Reason to Ride bike-a-thon for cancer research, they’ll be rewarded with a free cookout, courtesy of Fuddruckers.
Turns out, the restaurant is not just the presenting sponsor of the local charity ride. Over the past decade, Jim Boland, a Gloucester resident who owns four Fuddruckers franchises with his wife, Jan, has formed a deep connection to the ride — one that developed because of a friend who died from cancer in 2009.
Ten years ago, Boland saw a flyer for the ride, which benefits cancer research at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston. He called organizer Tom DesFosses, a Peabody resident and brain cancer survivor, offering to help — and nothing has been the same since.
“The ride wouldn’t happen without him,” DesFosses said simply.
Back in 2008, the Rev. Howie Rich of Danvers was diagnosed with an aggressive form of brain cancer called glioblastoma. Rich, a retired health and physical education teacher at Danvers High, was also the the minister at Boland’s church, Union Congregational Church in Magnolia.
Boland was taking Rich for his chemotherapy treatments at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, under the care of neuro-oncologist Dr. Eric Wong, who was also Tom DesFosses’ doctor.
Boland recalls spotting a flyer for A Reason to Ride in an office there. What caught his eye was that the ride was supporting Dr. Wong’s research.
“The next visit with Howie,” Boland said, “we drive down. He’s getting his chemo, and Dr. Wong just happened to come in to check on him. And I said, ‘By any chance, are you Dr. Wong that is involved in this ride?’ And he goes, ‘Yeah, that’s me.’ And I said, ‘We would like to get involved somehow.’”
Boland said the relationship with the ride was meant to be.
Rich died in November 2009 at age 64. About five years ago, Boland said, the cancer also claimed the life of a good friend who had worked at Fuddruckers for more than 25 years.
More than hamburgers
When they began thinking about how Boland could help, they came up with the idea of a cookout at the end of the ride — an appropriate fit for Fuddruckers, known for its hamburgers. The Bolands own and operate franchises in Methuen, North Andover, Reading and Saugus.
But the Bolands do much more than that. The restaurant also holds a kickoff party just before the ride. This year’s party was held Thursday, and proceeds from sales that evening went to the ride. The restaurants also have donation cans sitting at the registers to benefit cancer research at Beth Israel Deaconess.
Boland, 62, who is also an avid cyclist and triathlete, meets all year with the group that organizes the ride, including Tom and Judy DesFosses, their friend Bob Barry, and others.
Boland and his wife not only support the ride, they pedal the 25-mile loop with a bunch of friends who have also been affected by cancer. Some of his employees volunteer their time to work the cookout.
And Boland has even taken his restaurant managers to tour Wong’s lab to show them where the money raised from the ride goes.
Boland has been impressed with DesFosses, a retired employee of General Electric in Lynn — who, incidentally, will be throwing out the first pitch at the 4 p.m. Red Sox game on Saturday. It was more than a decade ago that DesFosses was diagnosed with an aggressive form of brain cancer called primary CNS lymphoma.
He was given long odds of beating the cancer, but he did so under Wong’s care and treatments. After taking a 750-mile solo fundraising ride through New England in 2007, DesFosses started A Reason to Ride in 2008.
About four years ago, DesFosses’ cancer returned, but is now in remission.
“Part of it is just amazing positive spirit,” Boland said of DesFosses. “It’s just absolutely incredible. I think it’s inspiring. It inspires hope for me and others. He’s always upbeat, he’s always positive. He’s like: ‘We are going to get this, let’s move forward.’”
The admiration is mutual.
“He’s more than a sponsor,” DesFosses, 76, said of Boland. “He’s an integral part of the ride.”
Staff writer Ethan Forman can be reached at 978-338-2673, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @TannerSalemNews.
A READON TO RIDE
When: Sunday, Sept. 9, 8 a.m.
Where: 75 Sylvan St., Danvers
The routes: Routes of 10, 25 or 50 miles are available, all beginning and ending in Danvers. There is also a 5K walk.
Registration: $75 for adults, $25 for children under 16.
The goal: To raise $150,000 for cancer research at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center.
Information and registration: www.areasontoride.com