The Incredible Reason Peloton's Emma Lovewell Rode Her Bike 80 Miles

After her own mom's battle (and win) with cancer, the instructor was inspired to use her platform to further research for the disease by participating in the annual Pan-Mass Challenge.

The Incredible Reason Peloton's Emma Lovewell Rode Her Bike 80 Miles
Photo: Peloton

About five years ago, Emma Lovewell's life was turned upside down. Before making a name for herself as one of Peloton's most joyful yet fierce instructors (try her Crush Your Core program for proof), Lovewell was teaching cycling at a New York City fitness studio when she received a troubling call from her mom.

"She had a bloody nose that wouldn't stop," Lovewell tells Shape during a Zoom call from her Martha's Vineyard home. "I came home [to the Massachusetts island] to help her because she was alone and health care is a little bit limited here — there's one hospital."

Lovewell booked an appointment for her mom in the ear, nose, and throat department of Boston's Massachusetts General Hospital and was suddenly thrown into the role of patient advocate, helping her mom — a Taiwanese native whose first language is Mandarin — navigate the confusing situation.

"She's in her 60s, she was very frightened, she didn't know what was going on," explains Lovewell. "We went on this journey together. She ended up having a tumor in her sinuses and needed surgery immediately. I still remember, we went home and immediately got the phone call that it was cancerous and it was just the most heartbreaking moment." (

The diagnosis devastated Lovewell's family, but the trainer says it also afforded them a level of closeness they hadn't experienced in years. "My parents are divorced and my dad came over and my brother came out from California, and we took in the news as a family — my parents hugged for like two minutes which was like….they've been divorced since I was 12 years old," she says, explaining how the news changed everything. "It was such a heartbreaking experience but there were some very vivid, beautiful moments where we really came together as a family."

Lovewell quit her job and moved back home to Martha's Vineyard to take over the family gardening business while her mom received radiation and chemotherapy treatments in Boston. "I have limited experience but I grew up gardening with my mom — luckily all of her clients are very understanding," says Lovewell. She also accompanied her mom to doctor's appointments, during which they received help from organizations such as Angel Flight NE, a non-profit that provides free air and ground transportation for those in need of life-saving medical care. "My mom was so cute; she makes homemade jelly and would bring jars to the pilots every time because she was so grateful!" says Lovewell. After months of treatment, Lovewell's mom was in the clear — and she's remained cancer-free for five years.

The Incredible Reason Peloton's Emma Lovewell Rode Her Bike 80 Miles

Lovewell says the experience left her with a deeper appreciation for the caregivers working to support patients and their families, and it illuminated the immense need for more funding toward research and treatment for various forms of cancer. So when representatives for the Pan-Mass Challenge — an annual Massachusetts-based bike-a-thon that raises more money for cancer charity than any other athletic fundraising event in the country — contacted her, Lovewell didn't hesitate to join the cause. (

"[The organizers] reached out to me a few years ago and asked if I could do an encouraging video because there are a lot of Pan-Mass riders who train on a Peloton," she says. "I sent a video, but it wasn't super involved. So this year I was sort of reflecting on my experience with my mom and knowing I have this amazing platform now because of Peloton and I was like, 'what an awesome way to use my platform and use a skill of mine of being on a bike, blended with a cause that I'm personally passionate about — why not do the thing?'"

Lovewell and her boyfriend, Dave (whose mother is also a cancer survivor) signed up to ride in this year's bike-a-thon event with just about three weeks to train. But the Pan-Mass Challenge isn't a race — the two-day event, which takes place annually the first weekend in August, includes 16 routes spanning 25 to 211 miles to cater to different riding experiences and fitness levels. The focus is firmly on raising funds for cancer research and patient care at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, a non-profit hospital in Boston. The PMC, which was founded in 1980, donates 100 percent of every rider-raised dollar directly to Dana-Farber and is the Institute's largest single contributor. In 2020 alone, the Pan-Mass Challenge raised $50 million through its Reimagined event (a self-guided option that allows riders to participate from anywhere in the world), bringing its total contributions to date to an astounding $767 million. While the event took place on August 7 and 8 this year, donations are still welcome through the end of the month, as the goal for 2021 is an ambitious $56 million. As of Wednesday, Nov. 3, the Dana-Farber and the Jimmy Fund will receive a $64 million gift from the Pan-Mass Challenge, the largest single gift Dana-Farber has received.

While the challenge isn't meant to be a competition, Lovewell and her boyfriend took their training seriously so they could finish one of the multiple courses (an 80-mile trek) strong. "Luckily I spend maybe five hours on the Peloton bike a week already," says Lovewell. "Cardiovascular-wise, I felt confident — I do a lot of HIIT training. But some of these [segments on the Pan-Mass rides] are longer efforts and longer hills where you're climbing for four minutes or five minutes." (

To prep for the tougher resistance pushes of the 80-mile course, Lovewell leaned on her millions of Peloton students for support. "In my rides, I told people, 'you are helping me train for the PMC — we are doing three blocks of work where we're gonna have four-minute intervals,'" she says. "I kind of changed some of the class structure to help me train for some of the longer pushes and the longer type of rides. I got some messages like, 'when are you doing this race so you'll stop making us train for it?' But then there were so many people who were like, 'I'm doing the ride too so thank you this is helping me train!' And on the day of the ride, numerous people came up and told me 'you helped me train for this ride, so thank you.'"

Lovewell also worked her way up to the event by doing longer outdoor rides and when she crossed the finish line on August 8, she says the experience was everything she'd hoped for and more. "It was perfect," she says. "At the end of the ride, I was like, 'that was a solid, very challenging workout, but totally manageable. When you look at the people crossing the finish line, they are people of all ages and all fitness abilities — people just show up and it is the most encouraging and supportive group. Even when someone's passing you on the left, they're like, 'great job Emma, keep it up!' It's such a supportive environment so although it's super challenging I don't think it's too hard even if you're a beginner."

Physical challenges aside, the PMC was a deeply emotional journey for Lovewell who wrote in an Instagram caption about a moment during the ride when she teared up as a volunteer cheered her on at mile two. "I anticipated it would be like that a little bit because I'd heard from friends who have done the PMC for 25 years in a row — they say 'every year it's the same, it doesn't get less emotional.' When you're riding and you're physically exhausted and breathless and sweaty and uncomfortable and then emotionally something hits you, it can be overwhelming. There are some times when there are groups of people holding up signs and cheering you on, and it's very happy, but what really hits the most is when there's like a single person who clearly just walked out to the road by themselves and is holding a sign that says something like, 'I'm a 20-year survivor, thank you so much.' I can't even say it without choking up right now. All of that hits you while you're in the middle of the ride. It's just so powerful." (

The Incredible Reason Peloton's Emma Lovewell Rode Her Bike 80 Miles

Participating in the PMC pushed Lovewell to new emotional and physical levels, but it also bolstered the connection she's fostered to her mom over the last few years. "This whole experience has created such a different relationship between my mom and me," she says. "When I was a teenager, my mom and I didn't get along at all — I was a rebellious teenager, we'd argue all the time. There's just really something about when you think you might lose someone, how impactful that can be."

Opening up about her personal experience has also helped Lovewell feel more connected to her legions of fans and followers. "At Peloton, I'm teaching literally millions of people and there are these common themes we can all get behind because unfortunately, the majority of people have been affected by cancer in their lives in some way," she says. "And especially with a global pandemic, we can all relate to going through hard things and making it through to the other side. Everyone is going through a silent battle that you know nothing about; there is a lot of hardship, so how can we work through it on our own and also as a community? We all have a lot more in common than you'd think, we're all going through something difficult, and we can do hard things. We can use the community to make it less difficult."

Lovewell and Dave are already making plans for next year's PMC, but she encourages anyone, no matter where you live, to find a cause you feel connected to and simply get involved. "If there's a local ride, or run, or anything, don't hesitate — start now," she says. "It's beneficial for you to sign up and it's also beneficial for the receiving end as well. What a fun thing: to physically challenge yourself and to make a difference in the world that's meaningful." (

And for those personally coping with a cancer diagnosis, undergoing treatment, or offering care to a loved one, Lovewell shares these words of encouragement: "You can get through this — you've been through harder and you've already made it this far. Focus on what you already have, enjoy the positive, and continue on the manifestation of positivity. Whatever the outcome, you will get through it, and you will be okay."

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