A few years after suffering a catastrophic leg injury, former NFL QB Alex Smith is aiming to bike 200 miles across the Bay State in this weekend’s Pan-Mass Challenge as he raises money for cancer research.
The bike-a-thon fundraiser for Dana-Farber Cancer Institute has become quite personal for the ex-quarterback, he told the Herald this week. Last year, his daughter Sloane was diagnosed with a very rare brain tumor.
“It has changed our lives forever,” Smith said ahead of this weekend’s PMC. “The last year-plus has been extremely difficult.”
His daughter last May was rushed to the ER with stroke-like symptoms. After an MRI, doctors discovered that she had a very rare brain tumor — called a neuroepithelial tumor — and she needed to undergo an emergency craniotomy.
Sloane bounced back from the brain surgery, but the tumor remains an unknown. She has to get scanned every eight weeks, and she underwent another resection a few months ago. Again, she rebounded well from it, but the family continues to “live scan-to-scan,” Smith said.
“It never goes very far in your mind as a parent,” he said, later adding, “It’s not something you ever anticipate going through.”
Before his daughter’s tumor diagnosis, Smith — who played for the San Francisco 49ers, Kansas City Chiefs, and Washington Football Team — became an advocate for the recovery footwear company OOFOS.
Following his horrific leg injury that almost led to an amputation in 2018, Smith started to wear OOFOS, which he stressed was key for his recovery.
Now, Smith is a member of Team OOFOS for his first PMC. OOFOS began riding in the PMC and raising money for patient care and cancer research back in 2015 when their first employee, Duncan Finigan, was diagnosed with Stage 4 metastatic breast cancer.
“OOFOS brought up doing the PMC last year, and now it hits even closer to home with my daughter,” Smith said.
He’ll be riding from Sturbridge to Bourne on Saturday, and then waking up on Sunday with likely sore legs to bike from Bourne to Provincetown. His longest ride during training has been 35 miles.
“This will definitely be a big step up for me,” Smith said, adding that his emotions for the weekend range from “excited” to “nervous and anxious.”
“I’m pumped to be going out there, but this is all so new to me,” he said, noting that this is his first foray into endurance sports.
Following the devastating injury in 2018, Smith returned to the NFL and was the 2020 AP NFL Comeback Player of the Year. He will always have a permanent drop foot in his right leg.
“My leg has felt great,” he said. “There are some permanent limitations, but it’s nothing I feel like I can’t overcome.
“I do have to adapt, but I think that’s also what excites me about going out to do stuff like this,” he added.
Smith will be riding alongside 6,400 other cyclists this weekend. PMC’s goal this year is to raise a record-breaking $70 million for Dana-Farber. PMC raises more money for charity than any other single athletic fundraising event in the country.
“Roll the window down and clap this weekend,” PMC founder Billy Starr, who has participated in all 44 years, said to motorists.
PMC donates 100% of every rider-raised dollar directly to Dana-Farber to fund lifesaving cancer research, treatment and patient care. The organization is Dana-Farber’s single largest contributor, accounting for more than 60% of the annual revenue at the Jimmy Fund. Last year, the PMC raised $69 million, bringing its 43-year contribution to Dana-Farber to $900 million.
To learn more about the Pan-Mass Challenge and to donate, visit www.pmc.org.