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‘This is 100 percent what he would want me to do’: Northborough man bikes over 1,600 miles in honor of late son

By Kate Armanini Globe Correspondent

Jim Bruce and Diane Stokes as they started their bike ride in Florida. The pair pedaled from Falmouth, Fla., to Falmouth, Mass., to raise money in support of those with ALS.COMPASSIONATE CARE ALS

After a 29-day journey, Jim Bruce is finally home.

The retired Northborough police officer completed a 1,600-mile bike ride Saturday, pedaling from Falmouth, Fla., to Falmouth, Mass., to support those diagnosed with ALS.

“I just have a renewed sense of gratitude for all the things that we take for granted in life,” said Bruce, 62. “I never felt like I couldn’t do it with all the love and support that we had.”

So far, the trip has raised more than $86,000 for Compassionate Care ALS, a Falmouth, Mass.-based nonprofit providing financial and emotional support for those with ALS and their families. Bruce’s goal is to raise $100,000.

ALS, or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, is a nervous system disease that affects muscle control. There’s no cure, and most people have a life expectancy of about two to five years after a diagnosis, according to the ALS Association.

It’s a disease Bruce knows all too well. In March 2014, his son, Matt Bruce, died after a 10-month battle with ALS. He was 26.

“If you knew my son, you know that this is 100 percent what he would want me to do,” Bruce said. “He is the driving force.”

After Matt’s diagnosis, Bruce fondly recalls his son’s optimism. A devoted sports fan, he still attended Boston Red Sox and Bruins games. He traveled across Europe with his family. Even as he lost his ability to speak and eat, “he had a smile on his face,” Bruce said.

“He truly made every day count,” Bruce said. “That’s one of the important things that I wanted to let people know, too. We should live like that every day because we don’t know what tomorrow is going to bring.”

About a year ago, that thought was at the forefront of his mind while Bruce trained for a triathlon. He sought to give back to Compassionate Care ALS, which supported him and his family through a time of profound grief.

The idea of a cross-country journey came to mind, and his longtime training partner and friend, Diane Stokes, said she would go with him.

As Bruce chronicled their ride in a blog, the support of his followers fueled him.

“I truly felt like everybody was behind me, and that was enough energy,” he said.

It wasn’t the bustling cities or the sweeping views that defined the trip. It was the people. At each of their 29 stops, Bruce and Stokes met with those diagnosed with ALS and their families.

One encounter in Yonkers, N.Y., was particularly touching, he said. He met Pat Quinn, whose son, Pat Quinn Jr., co-founded the Ice Bucket Challenge before he died in 2020. The challenge, also co-founded by Boston College alumnus Pete Frates, took social media by storm and has raised hundreds of millions of dollars for ALS research.

“We didn’t even have to say anything,” Bruce said of meeting Quinn. “We just knew that each other experienced a loss and the pain of losing a child. I had that deep connection with him, even though I really never met him before. I got to see a picture of his beautiful son.”

It was those stories, those faces, that stuck with Bruce as he traveled the Eastern Seaboard.

“A lot of times, riding along those long stretches of road, especially down south where it’s flat, I just tried to put the people that are living with ALS, and those that have passed, in my mind,” Bruce said. “Just to say, you know, you got this.”

Kate Armanini can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @KateArmanini.