By Kassie Parisi
HALFMOON — Next month, Jen Hathaway will participate in the annual bike ride that once saved her life and now helps to improve the lives of many others.
On Aug. 6, Hathaway will be riding in the Pan-Mass Challenge, a yearly bike-a-thon in Massachusetts that sends all proceeds to the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.
Hathaway has lived in Halfmoon since 1989, and graduated from Russell Sage College. A full-time massage therapist, she owns Back In Balance Therapeutic Massage in Clifton Park, and is the captain of the massage tent for the Lake Placid Ironman.
For awhile, Hathaway was surrounded by athletes, but she herself was not healthy. She was overweight, going through issues in her personal relationships. Then, to make matters worse,, she lost her father, Howie, to cancer in 2015.
“Everything that could have been going wrong was going wrong,” Hathaway said, adding that her father, whom she calls her hero, fought long and hard against the disease and never complained.
When Howie died, Hathaway was at a crossroads. That time in her life, she said, was rock bottom. She knew that continuing down the path she was on would eventually lead to more dangerous health complications, and she realized that she alone had to make the decision to change her own life. Hathaway also wanted to find a way to honor her father.
Hathaway, who had no real cycling experience, registered to ride in thePan-Mass Challenge. The ride has a personal connection to her because her father had received treatment at the Dana-Farber Institute.
The decision to get out of her comfort zone, Hathaway said, was intentional. She will be biking 80 miles on Cape Cod, starting at the Bourne Bridge and finishing in Provincetown.
“For me, it really is personal,” she said. “I wanted to pick something that would scare the hell out of me and get me in shape.”
Hathaway said that her father has been with her every step. Getting ready for the ride required a lifestyle change, she said. She started going to spinning classes. She talked to other athletes to solicit tips on healthy eating and training.
“I’m actually taking control of my life back,” she said. “Mind, body, and spirit, I’m a completely different person.”
While changing old, entrenched habits has been a huge challenge for Hathaway, she said that surrounding herself with like-minded people has been incredibly helpful. Exercising in groups has provided her with a feeling of accountability, and she doesn’t want to back to not feeling well.
“I don’t want to go back,” she said. Also helping her to keep things is perspective is the cause for which she is riding.
“My bad day on a bike is still so much better than anyone’s who is battling health issues,” she pointed out.
Now, Hathaway doesn’t recognize herself in pictures from years ago. She said that she was terrified while preparing for her first ride last year, but by taking the journey one step at a time, she has become healthy and happy.
This will be her second time participating in the ride, and she aims to trim her time. Last year it took her seven hours to finish the ride, and this year her goal is six hours. While she is still working on the fundraising goal, Hathaway said that, because of her improved health, she is anticipating the fund-raiser, not angsting over it.
Hathaway knows that the ride won’t bring her father back. But, she said, it’s enough for now that she is riding for him, and that her ride is helping to bring awareness to a disease that affects countless people.
After the race, Hathaway is taking some time off for a beach vacation, but then she said she plans to dive headfirst into training for next year’s ride — not only for her dad, but for herself.
“It keeps me connected to my dad,” she said. “I don’t want to ever forget him.”