In the Senate, John Kerry and Scott Brown wheel and deal. Outside, they just wheel.
The political differences between Brown, a Republican newcomer to Congress, and Kerry, a long-serving Democrat, get left behind when the two senators get on their bicycles and indulge their shared passion for riding.
Their next session comes Saturday, when Kerry and Brown mount up to participate in the Pan-Mass Challenge. The cross-state bike ride is the biggest fundraiser of the year for the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and one of the biggest in the country. The senators will be among 5,200 riders whose goal is to raise $31 million over the weekend.
“We just go out and have a good, morning exercise ride,” Kerry told The Associated Press recently. “We get out of Washington as fast as we can and go out into the Maryland countryside.”
Said Brown: “Some people go out and have beers or go to dinner together. We don’t do that. We may get a bite to eat once in a while, but we find there’s a commonality there (through riding) and we have a bike meeting.”
This is Kerry’s seventh year riding in the Pan-Mass Challenge and his first since a pair of hip replacement operations in the past year. He’s riding in honor of his late colleague and the man Brown replaced with an upset win in January, Sen. Edward M. Kennedy. He died last August of brain cancer.
For Brown, it will be his first ride, but the second time he has attended. This year, as he did three years ago, Brown will be on hand Friday night to watch his oldest daughter, Ayla, sing at the opening ceremonies. She’s a Boston College graduate and a former “American Idol” semifinalist who now reports for the CBS “Early Show.”
Kerry and Brown will then ride a 110-mile leg from Sturbridge to Bourne, one of 10 routes of varying length. The full ride is 190 miles, from Sturbridge to Provincetown. During the past 31 years, it has raised $270 million for cancer research.
“I think it speaks to the fact that in New England, the PMC has become institutionalized,” said Billy Star, who founded the race in 1980. “It’s important in terms of the money generated, and its meaning to the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute is sort of in a league of its own. It has an iconic stature that commands the attention of U.S. senators.”
The race also attracts more than 600 employees from Dana-Farber, one of the world’s pre-eminent cancer research and treatment facilities.
“It’s an opportunity for doctors to support their patients and patients to support their doctors,” Starr said. “It’s a palpable illustration that all the people who are suffering or being treated for cancer are not in this alone.”
Kerry, 66, is a lifelong athlete whose hip degeneration is partly blamed on his penchant for soccer, jogging, inline skating, windsurfing and riding. He had his first hip replacement last August. He was so pleased with its success that he had a second operation in January. Since then, he’s been trying to rebuild atrophied muscle.
“I’ll make my best effort,” he said of the impending ride.
Kerry calls Brown, a college basketball player who now participates in triathlons, a “strong, capable rider.”
Asked whether the two ever discuss Senate business on their training rides, Kerry replied, “We would never reveal those kind of trade secrets.”
As to who wins, Kerry joked, “Massachusetts.”
Brown, 50, has already done four triathlons this year. The mix of swimming, riding and running is his vehicle for stress relief, he said.
“I don’t golf; that’s really my relaxation,” he said. “I go be a total nut for an hour and a half, then go see the family, go do events.”
Brown said he plans to ride hard in the Pan-Mass Challenge because he has other events after he crosses the finish line Saturday afternoon.
As for how he expects Kerry to do, Brown said with a laugh, “I’m sure he’ll keep up with me for the first couple of miles.”