Woman’s bond with Pan-Mass Challenge strengthens after father’s death


REHOBOTH, Mass. (WPRI) — We are just one week away from the Pan-Mass Challenge where each year thousands of bicyclists from around the country and the world flock to New England to participate in the 192 mile race through Massachusetts to raise money for the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.

Two years ago, we introduced you to Jess Otto. She rides for her father, Peter, who was a terminally ill patient at Dana-Farber.

Her story first went viral after a her friend, a bride gifted the father-daughter dance to Jess, who was a bridesmaid in the wedding.

Now, Jess is turning that tragedy into triumph.

“I’m really thankful for how much life has changed, since, you know, in the past two years,” said Otto. “If I didn’t have the PMC today, I truly don’t know where I’d be.”

In the past decade, her relationship with the Pan-Mass Challenge has evolved.

As the daughter of a cancer patient, she started as a volunteer. She then went on to participate four times, half of those with her father.

Just days after her fathed passed away on July 31, 2017, Otto pedaled 192 miles in his memory. Months after that ride, she was hired by the PMC.

“I feel as though I have a unique standpoint because I went from a volunteer to a rider to a head staff employee, so I try to bring something special with me to work every day and I try to take something home every day.”

Over 40 years, the PMC has donated $654 million to Dana-Farber, the cancer institute Otto says gave her many more years, and memories, with her dad.

“I know that he’s proud of me and that does make it easier for him not being there.”

Each year, the PMC falls just days after the anniversary of Peter’s death, helping make what would normally be a devastating time hopeful for the Otto family.

“We would never think of doing anything else on the first weekend in August.”

Two years ago, the PMC helped Jess grieve her father. Now, it helps give her purpose.

“I get to have a say and I get to bring my ideas and help to make the organization that I love even better. We had an amazing life with him and his legacy is going to live on forever. I will definitely make sure of that!”

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