Drew Wallace, who served in Afghanistan as a Marine sergeant and is a now a Boston firefighter, listened as the cheers rang out at Fenway Park last month on Pan Mass Challenge (PMC) Day honoring him at a “Hats Off to Heroes” celebration for his service fighting wars and fires – and cancer.
The event commemorated the Red Sox Foundation’s 16-year commitment to the PMC, an annual bikeathon that passes through the Commonwealth of Massachusetts to raise money for the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. In addition to hailing Wallace for his contributions, PMC Day featured 40 PMC riders who have undergone, or are currently undergoing cancer treatment, and who are cited as “Living Proof” of the PMC mission to eradicate cancer. They rode around the warning track before this year’s PMC’s logo was officially unveiled on the Green Monster at the ancient ball park.
One hundred percent of every rider-raised donation during the PMC goes directly to Dana-Farber. Next month, the 39th PMC will take place on Aug. 4 and 5, with three starting lines – in Sturbridge, Wellesley and Bourne – and five finish lines – in Provincetown (2), Bourne, Wellesley, and Foxborough. More than 6,200 cyclists will ride as many as 192 miles that weekend with a goal of raising $52 million. Team Boston Fire, of which Wallace is captain, has already raised $45,000 toward that number.
Firefighting is among the professions most affected by cancer, a fact that inspired Wallace, 31, to compete in the challenge. Over the three years he has risen to the PMC challenge, he has brought in donations of more than $15,000.
“It is a no-brainer that [firefighters should] play a role in the fundraising event leading the charge in combating the disease that is affecting us all,” Wallace wrote on his PMC “Why I Ride” donation page.
The Reporter interviewed Wallace, who lives in Adams Corner, about his childhood, his experiences as a Marine and firefighter, and his time living in Dorchester.
Q. Tell us about your childhood. Where did you grow up?
A. In Sharon, and I went to Sharon public schools all the way through high school. I was your typical teenager: I skateboarded, played all sorts of sports, held a couple of different jobs and was always out with the neighborhood kids causing trouble.
Q. You served as a sergeant in the US Marine Corps and were awarded a Navy Achievement Medal for your actions as a squad leader in Afghanistan. What inspired you to join the Marines?
A. I joined shortly after I graduated high school in 2005. I never was the best student, and I didn’t get accepted into that many colleges, so I felt a little lost while all my friends were deciding which school they wanted to attend. Then, one day, I saw a poster for the Marines. I had always been interested in the military, since the majority of males in my family had served, including my father. I had always wanted to be a firefighter, and I saw that the Marines offered a firefighting job. I was signed up within a week.
Q. What was that experience like for you?
A. Overall, I absolutely loved the Marines and am still looking to re-enter the military. Not everyone is ready to enter college after high school and college isn’t for everyone. I would have surely gotten into trouble in college and still be dealing with the debt, as many of my friends are. Instead, I was able to rediscover myself in the military and return with a new perspective – along with the post 9/11 GI Bill. I ended up graduating from Suffolk University with a Bachelor of Arts magna cum laude, and debt free. That would’ve been unimaginable to me as a senior in high school.
Q. Now, you’re a firefighter in Dudley Square. What is that like?
A. As the busiest department in the city for the past two years, there is never a dull moment working there. I love it and it has been a dream come true for me.
Q. You were recently honored at Fenway Park for your military service and your work as a rider in the PMC. Congratulations! How did you start riding in the PMC?
A. My friend, who is on the team now, got me to ride my first PMC in 2015. I did it because I love that type of physical challenge, and it was for a great cause. I was blown away by the logistics of the event: the amount of riders riding, the amount of support and fans that line the road throughout the 192-mile course, and, above all, the fact that they can manage to give 100 percent of every rider-raised dollar to the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.
Q. Apart from riding in the PMC next month – Good luck! – what’s next for you? Are you planning to stay in Dorchester?
A. Well, I hope to continue with this team for many years to come and to continue to grow. And I definitely plan on staying in Dorchester. I love it here.