Northeastern Physical Therapy provides care and massages for bike riders in the Pan-Mass Challenge for cancer research

Student Mahin Rahman practices massage techniques at the Behrakis Health Sciences. Rahman along with 60 other Northeastern Physical Therapy students are volunteering to give massages for the eight hour duration of the Pan Mass Challenge, a bike race fundraiser for cancer research. Photo by Ruby Wallau/Northeastern University

At roughly 12:30 p.m., the first wave of riders trickles in underneath the hot summer sun to Bourne, Massachusetts, a stopping point at the foot of Cape Cod for bikers who compete in the Pan-Mass Challenge, a race that raises money for cancer research. 

Northeastern physical therapy students will be waiting eagerly near their massage tables as racers begin to file in. 

Over the next eight hours, they’ll be stretching and massaging thousands of racers.

Photo by Ruby Wallau/Northeastern University

“They work on a lot of different people, using a lot of different techniques, and just feeling comfortable with those techniques does a lot for their confidence,” says Maureen Watkins, an assistant clinical professor who coordinates the annual volunteering effort. “I mean, they already have the skill but to know they’re doing it well, it really seals the deal.”

Watkins estimates that each volunteer tends to roughly 24 riders. She says the breadth of experience gained from this one day goes a long way for the students and young graduates. 

Mahin Rahman, who’s studying for her doctorate in physical therapy, is volunteering for her first time this weekend at the event. She says she’s excited for a “full day of real practice.”

“It allows us to use the skills we’ve learned to help contribute, and give back to a great cause,” Rahman says. “It’s a full day of massaging, so a full day of hands-on, manual therapy. That’s why I wanted to volunteer.”

Students in Northeastern’s Department of Physical Therapy have been volunteering for 10 years at the Pan Mass Challenge, which was founded by Billy Star, who graduated from Northeastern in 1980. The race, which has raised over $654 million to date for the Dana Farber Cancer Institute, takes place on Saturday, August 3 and Sunday, August 4, and it consists of 12 different routes ranging from 25 to 192 miles. Once the riders reach Bourne, they can sign up to be cared for by any of the physical therapists volunteering, Northeastern affiliated or not. 

Zeb Zigas, who earned his bachelor’s and doctorate degrees in physical therapy at Northeastern in 2012, says the physical care provided varies based on the needs of the rider.

“You have 15 minute time-slots and you use it however you see fit based on what the riders ask for,” says Zigas, whose volunteered almost every year since 2011. “That might mean working on stretching a couple of leg muscles, or spending time on the neck. It just all depends on what the rider’s specific needs are and you allocate your time accordingly.”

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