The crowd in the Sears parking lot erupted in applause last week as 23 tenacious cyclists rolled in.
It was only Day 1 of the eighth annual Sears National Kids Cancer Ride (SNKCR), a 17-day biking journey from coast to coast. When the riders arrive in Halifax on September 26, they will have travelled 7,000 km.
Each day, the exuberant cyclists stop at local Sears stores and paediatric oncology centres to meet children and families from the childhood cancer community. These are the people they are fighting for.
As the riders arrived in Chilliwack, their path was lined with posters depicting the faces and stories of children who have been affected by cancer.
Ulana Kopystansky dismounted from her bike and knelt down by one sandwich board that read, “Taissa, 1987-2001.”
“That’s my baby,” she said.
Ola McIntosh, general manager of Sears Chilliwack, thanked the riders and volunteers for their outstanding dedication and generosity.
After riding anywhere from 140 to 300 km per day, the cyclists sleep in one of two semi trucks. Carl Foster, a SNKCR truck driver for five years, guided guests through the interior of the truck, lined with bunk beds and pictures of the kids that inspire them.
Kristen Kuzemko from Toronto rides for the children on the cancer floor of the hospital where she volunteers, and for her family members who have been diagnosed.
After her national ride in 2012, Kuzemko was a different person.“It’s a journey that – if you allow it to – will change you.”
Also part of the ‘wheel family,’ and the only 2015 rider from B.C., was Bob Ahuja. “He is our local hero,” said McIntosh.
“A lot of kids lose the opportunity to ride their bike,” Ahuja struggled to say. “They’re stuck in a hospital, or even worse, they’ve passed away.”
For Ahuja, the ride provides hope for kids like Rohit, his young cousin who battled the devastating disease. “He was 10 when he was diagnosed, and fought for four years before he passed away at age 14.”
He and Rohit shared a special bond, and Thursday was a particularly difficult yet heart-warming day for Ahuja as family supported him at the B.C. stops.
Sears Chilliwack hopes to raise $8,000 in store, $5,000 of which will go towards Ahuja’s fundraising goal of $25,000.
The Coast to Coast Against Cancer Foundation has a 100 per cent donation model. Since the SNKCR began in 2008, $9 million has been raised to improve the quality of life for children impacted by cancer and to fund cancer research programs at Canadian hospitals.
Amongst the Chilliwack crowd were Mark Strahl (MP Chilliwack – Fraser Canyon), Jason Lum (councillor, City of Chilliwack), Dr. Gwen Point (Chancellor of University of the Fraser Valley), and Laurie Throness (MLA Chilliwack – Hope).
Each speaker shared stories of their family and friends who’ve had cancer, and thanked the riders for the sacrifices they’ve made to take part in the event.
The riders were thrilled to meet Rolly Fox, father of Terry Fox, who’s presence and words inspired the entire crowd. “It was the children that Terry saw in the cancer wards that inspired him to do his run across Canada,” he explained, a motivation that resonates strongly with SNKCR participants.
“One of the greatest gifts that you can get is time, and time is precious,” said Dr. Point. “The time that you’re giving so that other children and families can walk through a journey struck with cancer, is immeasurable.”
To view the national schedule, the full list of 2015 riders, or to donate, visit searsnationalkidscancerride.com.