Babson Players Go The Distance For MS

So, yes, that glorious moment arrives when you complete your four years of school having enjoyed the rigorous academics and athletics at a prestigious college in New England and the time comes to get ready to enter the real world and get a job. Well, that’s probably true for a lot of student-athletes moving on after graduation but not all. Recently a group of four Babson graduates undertook a little challenge before starting their real jobs with the hope of raising money for multiple sclerosis. No neighborhood yard sales or car washes for this group — nope, they went right to the top in terms of finding a grueling and physically demanding way to raise money for research. They chose to ride bikes cross-country — not motorcycles, bicycles!

Current or former Babson players Kevin Welch, Tom Sullivan, Ryan Murphy and Mike Maher pose in Boston after completing their 3,300 mile ride for MS. (photos provided)

Current or former Babson players Kevin Welch, Tom Sullivan, Ryan Murphy and Mike Maher pose in Boston after completing their 3,300 mile ride for MS. (photos provided)

Where does an idea like that get started? Well, according to Ryan Murphy it all started in the classroom where a guest speaker at Babson’s renowned entrepreneurship program was unable to participate at his scheduled speaking engagement. “Sully (Tom Sullivan) and I were in the class together and later found out from the speaker’s wife that he couldn’t attend based on some MS related issues. It was the first we really had heard of the disease and we didn’t have any knowledge personally of someone impacted by it. We were thinking about this cross-country bike trip anyway but getting connected to raising money for MS really sealed the deal. There wasn’t any backing out once we contacted the local group and found a sponsor to work with us.”

Naturally our intrepid cyclists had to tell their coach of their plans and broke the news on the sidelines of a late spring lacrosse game. Needless to say Babson coach Jamie Rice was surprised. “They were so nonchalant about what they were undertaking. None of the guys had any cycling experience and I am not sure that any of them had actually pedaled a bike more than a couple of miles at any point before they decided to do this. I was like, ‘OK are you sure you know what you are getting into?'”

It was a great question that none of the four cyclists (Ryan Murphy — Marshfield, Mass.; Tom Sullivan — Quincy, Mass.; Kevin Welch — Sandwich, Mass. and Mike Maher — Cumberland, Maine) had really considered. “It was probably a good thing that we didn’t know what we didn’t know,” said Murphy. “Once the word got around that we were really going to pedal across the country from Seattle, Washington back to Boston, we had a lot of “experts” offering advice and telling us we couldn’t do it. That just fueled our competitive fires to really make it happen. Afterall, when you show up in Washington state with your bike, supplies and no return airplane ticket there’s really only one way to get home so we started pedaling.”

Let’s just say that pedaling a bike 100 miles a day is pretty demanding on the body. Getting used to the weight of the saddlebags that held their supplies for the trip, spare bike parts and tires was only part of the new learning the first couple of days brought to the team. Sure their backsides hurt from sitting on the bike all day, but they kept pushing themselves focused on the good cause their efforts were supporting and the comraderie on the road of seeing places none of them had ever been to before.

“The first few days were really tough,” commented Sullivan. “I had one day of training where I rode about 70 miles in a single day and now we looking at 100+ every day in order to make it back to Boston in 45 days or less. Some cycling gurus were telling us it was going to take two months based on our experience or lack thereof but we worked through it. It was the hardest thing I have ever done but it was a lot of fun too. We really had a great time on the road and met some really interesting people along the way who were very charitable to us in terms of letting us camp on their land or supplying us with water or directions to get something to eat.”

One of the most inspirational recurring events that kept the team focused on their end goal was the daily phone calls that came in on Murphy’s cell phone shortly after their trip began. “We had created a blog site so that people could track our progress and we could use it to solicit additional donations in support of our ride,” said Murphy. “My contact information was the only one on the site so I started to receive phone calls from people we didn’t know who either had MS or were related to someone with the disease. The phone calls were really amazing because they were so supportive of what we were doing and really gave us a sense of how important this was to people associated with MS. I can’t really describe how much it means to get calls from essentially complete strangers that make an immediate connection to where you are and what you are doing — it was awesome.”

The riders stop for an early picture in Washington State at Snolqualmie Falls -- a 3200 foot climb.

The riders stop for an early picture in Washington State at Snolqualmie Falls — a 3200 foot climb.

A second source of inspiration was found by the group once they entered the month of July after approximately three weeks of biking across country. “When we would rest overnight, we couldn’t help but look for the highlights of the Tour de France,” Sullivan noted. “It gave us a whole different appreciation of cyclists as athletes since they were doing the same distances we were or more every day but averaging nearly 25 miles per hour where we only in the 15 to 17 miles per hour range. It’s still not bad considering were built a bit bigger than a professional cyclist and they didn’t have to carry all of their supplies on their bike everyday. The hard part is really recuperating enough overnight to feel good in the seat pedaling the next day. Believe it or not after we were done most people thought I would never get back on a bike again but now that my body is used to it, I have taken some rides and it feels pretty good.”

The trip wasn’t all hard work. There were a lot of good stories along the way that the riders will be sharing with friends and family for years. “Welchie alone was the comical relief,” Murphy explained. “Between flat tires, riding into flying bugs and trying to outrace storms there were never too many dull moments plus we really got to see the country — every mile!”

When the boys returned to Boston on July 15th, a large crowd was waiting to celebrate their accomplishment with them at the Baseball Tavern in Boston. There aren’t too many people more proud than their coach. “This is the kind of thing that is just great about D-III hockey,” said Rice. “You get great kids that are committed to being successful in school, love playing the game of hockey and are outstanding citizens in supporting the community. What these guys did was truly inspiring and I am very proud of their accomplishments both on and off the ice.”

For those who want to know more about the cross-country ride, please check out the blog site for some individual perspective and humorous tales from the road at www.coasttocoastcycletocurems.blogspot.com/. More importantly for those who want to donate in support of the effort to raise money for research to find a cure for MS please visit www.expansion.acceleratedcure.org/coasttocoast. Any and all donations received will be welcome.

Nine states, one Canadian province, 3,300 miles in 39 days — that’s dedication and an amazing effort to support a very worthy cause. “We didn’t know much about the disease when we first undertook this journey,” commented Murphy. “But our lives have really been touched by so many people as we crossed the country and now we also found out about Jordan Sigalet with the Bruins who has MS. We hope that the donations keep coming in and that this will somehow make a difference for people. This was the hardest thing I have ever done and probably the most worthwhile.”

For some, the real world has arrived as Ryan and Sully were set to start their jobs this month at EMC Corporation. In some ways the trip was kind of a last hurrah in the transition from college to the professional world. No doubt, the stories about the summer bike trip will last a lifetime and I am not sure the boys will ever tell them all. But at the end of the day, they have raised over $9,000 and the number continues to grow. With the memories of saddle sores fading with time I asked if they would do it again the resounding answer was — YES! And I for one have no doubt that they would go the distance again.

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