Tearful tribute: Columbia man pedals for late wife

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Pictured, Columbia native Brian Tharp rides during the recent Pan-Mass Challenge in Cape Cod, Mass. (submitted photo)

Diane and Brian Tharp found their love later in life. 

The couple married in Key West, Fla., in 2014, just eight days after Diane turned 52. 

Their time together was brief, however, as Diane died from breast cancer last October at the age of 55. 

Shortly after Diane’s death, one of her college friends, Charlie Caciano, contacted Brian with an offer to join his team for the Pan-Mass Challenge.

The PMC is a bike-a-thon that raises money to donate to the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. Caciano has been riding in it for several years. 

“He thought it would be a good thing to do as far as helping with the grieving process and giving back,” said Brian, who lives in Columbia. “Me not being a bike rider, I hesitated at first, but I went ahead and did it.”

The PMC began in 1980 and has raised $598 million for cancer research since its inception, making it the single largest donor to Dana-Farber.

The ride took place Aug. 4-5 in Massachusetts, but Brian started training for the race locally in March.

He started by riding short 16-mile treks, eventually bumping his rides up to as long as 50 miles a day. That resulted in some weekends where he would bike more than 100 miles.

But even those long rides were shorter than what he did during the PMC.

Brian and the rest of Team Caciano chose to do the longest route, biking 192 miles over two days.

That easily marked the longest ride Brian had been on.

“I finished and my bike finished,” the retired assistant superintendent said with a chuckle. “The bike didn’t break down and I didn’t break down.”

“This was all about my late wife Diane,” he added. “She was an amazing person.”

To participate in the PMC, riders must raise certain amounts of money depending on the route they ride.

Brian had to raise a minimum of $4,900. He received almost $5,500, primarily by asking for donations from friends and family.

Other cyclists received donations from businesses or sold PMC products the day of the race to raise their money.

The community support did not stop with fundraising efforts. Brian said the crowds who gathered for the race, which for his team began in Sturbridge and ended Provincetown, both in Cape Cod, were impressive.

“It’s unbelievable the support we have from the communities,” he said. “They come out in droves with signs. And every neighborhood and street will have block parties where there is bagpipes playing. It’s just something to see.”

More than 6,300 cyclists from 43 states and 10 countries participated in the bike-a-thon.

PMC’s goal was to raise $52 million at the event after getting $51 million last year. Donations are still coming in, but the total currently stands at over $42 million.

Individuals can donate until October. The 13 members of Team Caciano raised $100,000, but they have a goal to reach $104,000 to become members of the Heavy Hitters Club. That would give them benefits if they ride again next year.

Every cent goes to Dana-Farber, which is why Brian said he rode in the event.

Given that it was his first time participating, Brian said he was impressed with how well  PMC takes care of cyclists in terms of transportation, hydration, snacks and lodging.

“It’s just unbelievable how well-organized and how much of a well-oiled machine it is,” he said. “It’s just a smooth operation and a great group of people. I had absolutely no hiccups and no issues, and you’d think I would being a first time rider.”

Brian said he would like to participate in the bike-a-thon next year, but he wants to devise ways to fundraise other than asking friends to donate.

Part of the reason he said he wants to race again is it fulfilled the dual purpose Caciano pitched to him.

“It has helped me with the grieving process,” he said while choking back tears. “My wife would be proud of me. I felt like I actually did something to help the cause.”

To learn more about PMC, go to pmc.org. To donate to Brian, visit profile.pmc.org/BT0117.

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