“My mom probably could have done 65 miles without even blinking, so my mom would have been like ‘try to keep up with me!’”
This year, Jessica Matthias is riding in Closer to Free for the first time, in honor of her mom, Pamela.
“My mom was full of life. She loved to work out, to watch me play soccer, my brother is an attorney, so she was very proud of that as well.”
The former UConn soccer player lost her mom last fall.
“After my mom passed away in October, my dad said something to me right afterwards - ‘I just don’t want your mom to be forgotten,’” said Matthias. “And as a daughter you’re like, how could that ever be possible?”
Her mom was a long-time tutor at Manchester High School and adored helping her students.
“She loved it. Those kids were her kids and the people she worked with became her family.”
The beloved mom and tutor’s cancer diagnosis followed one the family heard before. Pamela’s sister, Jessica’s aunt, had the same type of cancer.
“They both had ovarian cancer stage four when they were diagnosed,” said Matthias. “During that time, no one ever really said this could be a family gene, and so when my mom got diagnosed a couple years into it, they said you really need to have your family tested because if your aunt passed away, you now have BRCA 2 your family could have it as well.”
Matthias got tested for BRCA 2 and says she doesn’t have the gene, and she’s grateful for the advances in cancer testing. Staying in the research field, her mom joined a clinical trial at Smilow Cancer Hospital.
“She went down there, and my dad helped her with that, and they were great, but it just – you know – sometimes it just doesn’t work out. But it’s just great we had that option,” said Matthias. “It’s great she had that option to do a trial that could maybe help her, and hopefully the fundraising we’re doing will eventually help someone one day.”
She had conversations with another hockey mom where she heard about the Closer to Free Ride. She was interested because she knew it came through her town of Guilford.
“As soon as I signed up, I didn’t really tell anyone, I just signed up, and I just said to my wife, ‘what do you think?’ and she said go for it.”
Although there’s no fundraising goal this year for Closer to Free, the donations came in quickly.
“My mom was loved so much, and I have such a great support system, I think people just knew how much it would mean to me which was amazing,” said Matthias. “I just thought this would be a great way to keep her memory alive and also help other families, so they hopefully won’t have to go through something like this.”
The charity continued when someone in Guilford donated a bike for the 65-mile ride. Matthias is pacing herself, training with smaller routes around Guilford.
“This year I kind of wanted it to be my own team, me doing it, but I hope to get more people involved next year. Like, you don’t have to be this crazy bike rider to do this,” said Matthias.
As a first-time rider, she says she’ll miss being there in person on race day, but she’s looking forward to the challenge. And keeping her inspiration close to her heart.
“I think they’d be very proud. I know my dad is very proud, but I think they would be very proud of me so hopefully I’m making them proud,” said Matthias. “She was an incredible woman. She was my mom and there’s nothing more special than that.”
NBC Connecticut is a proud partner of the Closer to Free ride.