The cyclists were a little wet and weary, but their enthusiasm was resolute as they neared the finish of the first leg in a journey that will take them across Canada.
Their trip will be arduous, agreed Chris Collins, an MLA from Moncton New Brunswick. But the importance of their trek will soothe any sore muscle and raise any flagged spirit.
The riders were part of the Sears National Kids Cancer Ride, which pulled into to the Chilliwack Sears parking lot at around 1:30 Thursday afternoon.
They had left the shores of White Rock earlier that day, bringing with them stones they had gathered from the beach. The 24 cyclists will carry the rocks with them during their 17-day ordeal, tossing them back into the ocean when they reach the Atlantic 7,000 kilometres away (ironically at a place called Black Rock, Nova Scotia).
But they’re carrying more than rocks. They’re bringing a message and the conviction that the time has come to end childhood cancer.
Each rider must raise a minimum of $25,000 to participate in the ride – money that goes entirely to the Coast to Coast Against Cancer Foundation and its effort to improve the survival rate and quality of life for children and their families affected by cancer.
During the past two years the Sears National Kids Cancer Ride has raised $2.5 million, making it, “the biggest charity cycling event in the world on behalf of children with cancer.”
For Bruce Crooks, the reason for the ride is something he sees every day. As a pediatric oncologist at a Halifax hospital, childhood cancer is part of his everyday working life.
“These are who we are riding for,” he says, waving his arm toward the sandwich-board signs that line the cyclists’ arrival route. Each sign carries a photo and a story of some young person who’s life has been interrupted by cancer.
But while Dr. Crooks has seen the heartbreak of the disease, he’s also seen the hope, and the possibility that one day no parent will have to hear the news that pains him so much to deliver.
Writes Crooks in his blog: “As I said to a mother, not too long ago, as she had just been told her child had leukemia, ‘This must seem to be the worst day of your life. But I’m here to try and make it better for you.’”
I wish I never have to say those words again. That’s why I’m riding.”
Chris Collins heard those words.
“I lost a child to cancer six years ago,” he says as the exhilaration from the first leg of the journey starts to ease. His son, Sean, would be 18 today had cancer not claimed him shortly after his 13th birthday in 2007.
Collins has trained hard for the ride, logging thousands of kilometres both on the road and in the gym. A supporter of the foundation for many years, he finally decided (with encouragement from his wife, Lisette) to take on the challenge himself.
His goal is to raise $40,000 for the cause.
Says Collins in his blog: “It’s important to me to make sure that kids get to grow up. This ride gives me the opportunity to help make that happen.”
Both Crooks and Collins say they are looking forward to the familiar roads of their own home provinces. But they also know that once their ride has ended – and their stones are thrown in the Atlantic – the journey to end childhood cancer will continue.
For more information about the ride, to meet the riders and support their efforts, go to www.searsnationalkidscancerride.com/