Owings Mills cyclist pedals 200 miles for cancer charity

Buzz Levin jumped into cycling 21 years ago with both feet, and he's been pedaling ever since.

Levin of Owings Mills originally took up the sport so he could participate in the Pan-Massachusetts Challenge, a two-day, 200-mile race that raises money for cancer research.

Levin competed in the event for the 21st time on Aug. 6 and 7.

Now a seasoned veteran of the Pan-Massachusetts Challenge, Levin captained a 10-member team that expected to raise about $150,000 this year.

The 64-year-old Levin anticipates bringing in more than $21,000 himself this year and has raised more than $100,000 since he began racing.

"People on my team all have to be heavy hitters," said Levin, who owns a company that promotes, creates and manages special events for corporations. "In order to be on my team, people have to raise double the minimum that is required. You have to raise a minimum of $6,400" to be on his team.

Levin's team includes Pikesville residents Marley Simon, Richard Kuntz and Lenny Fleischmann, plus riders from New York, Boston, Los Angeles and San Francisco.

It's clear after 21 years that Levin has fallen in love with the event, which has featured Lance Armstrong among the riders.

"This event is unique because it's the largest fundraising (cycling) event in the country," Levin said. "The money that the individual riders raise — 100 cents of every dollar — goes to the research. There's not another event like it that's as old and organized."

Levin first jumped into the long-distance event in 1990 after his brother participated. Besides, several family members had died from cancer and he knew the race's organizer, Billy Starr, when Levin worked as a summer counselor at a camp at Maine in the late 1960s.

"My brother drew me in," Levin said. "As my brother faded out of the event, I brought more people in to join my team."

Levin rides the toughest of the eight courses.

His grueling first day — a 112-mile journey — started in Sturbridge, Mass. and finished in Bourne near the Massachusetts Maritime Academy, where a bridge takes travelers to Cape Cod.

Levin and his friends cycle from 5:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. every day. The first day includes a lot more than just bike riding. It's become a festival.

"It's a big party," Levin said. "It's just fabulous. (The school turns into) a great big training campus with a ship that lodges 400 to 500 people, (including) congressmen and senators."

The second ride lasts 92 miles and finishes in Provincetown, at the tip of Cape Cod.

Levin and his fellow 5,000 cyclists receive plenty of energy from enthusiastic crowds that line the streets.

"This (32-year-old) event has become the state's major let's-do-something-good event," Levin said. "Towns compete with one another. Some towns sponsor water stops (every 20 miles). Some people dress up in full Scottish regalia and play the bagpipes. The entertainment and the peope. … Each (stop) is insane."

Kuntz, a close friend of Levin, appreciates the effort his pal makes year after year.

"It's very important to him," said Kuntz, who has been doing the race for 13 years. "We talk about it a lot. He makes the experience memorable for everyone. He has a lot of people doing it with him over the years. We have raised more than $1 million. That's impressive."

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