Canada isn't big enough to stop a determined group of cyclists from continuing the fight against cancer.
Cyclists participating in the first annual Sears National Kids Cancer Ride met last week in the parking lot of Sears in North Hill Mall for a pit stop on their 7,600-kilometre ride across Canada. One of the longest charity cycling events in the world, the Kids Cancer Ride stops in Canada's major cities to raise money for research and support programs for children diagnosed with cancer and their families. The ride commenced at Vancouver's Kitsilano Beach on June 2. Schulich School of Engineering professor Neil Duncan is among the cyclists.
Duncan trained up to eight hours a day over the last six months to reach the intensity necessary to complete the journey.
"The last few weeks we've been cycling over 800 kilometres a week in training," said Duncan, noting the nature of the ride requires enormous physical and mental strength. "Because we're on a relay part, we're riding 24/7. Right now, we'll do a 25-kilometre ride, then this afternoon we'll do a 100-kilometre ride, then our next ride we start at 1 a.m. In between you've got blocks when you need to catch four to six hours sleep, so that's where the fatigue really starts to build up."
Despite the rigorous routine, Duncan acknowledged the mental game is more trying than the physical. Riders will get stronger the farther they go, but keeping the 50 cyclists on the same page can be challenging. As a long-time cyclist who commutes 30 kilometres to work at the U of C, Duncan is used to the exercise. He said the source of his determination is his family.
"As a parent of two healthy children, you just want to help all these other children that are affected by cancer," said Duncan. "I think everyone's going to come out different one way or another from the emotional challenges. At each place we stop there are cancer survivors and their families to tell us their stories. You can't not be affected by that. They're just amazing heroes. Doing the ride is absolutely the easy part of the whole thing."
Calgary's event included a speech by 12-year-old Adam Fedosoff, a cancer survivor and spokeskid for the Kids Cancer Care Foundation of Alberta. His story described the fear of being diagnosed with Chronic Myelogenous Leukemia. Fedosoff spoke of the early struggles with medication and chemotherapy, the enjoyment of camp life and being surrounded by kids in similar situations and finally beating cancer after a successful bone marrow transplant. He left few dry eyes in the audience.
"My cancer experience has taught me to live life to the fullest, have fun, be kind and do what's right," said Fedosoff.
His gratitude and life lessons were illustrative of the heroism participants like Duncan found in those they were cycling to support.
Duncan hopes to promote research, communication and passion about the work that can be done. He will continue to encourage U of C students to become involved in causes like the Kids Cancer Ride.
"I've had some students involved in fund-raising and, if we do this again next year, I'd like to say, 'Look what we did,' and then get a lot more students involved," said Duncan.