Cops for Cancer Tour de Rock will have the tour’s first father-daughter duo riding on a team.
Const. Cydney MacNeill, 34, of Nanaimo RCMP detachment and her father, Jack, 62, who retired in 2015 after 40 years with the RCMP and is a reserve constable in Duncan, will be cycling in the fundraiser this year.
Father and daughter are riding to battle pediatric cancer and, like many families, theirs hasn’t dodged the disease. In 1986, about 18 months after Cydney was born and her brother Tom was just three, Jack was diagnosed with a rare form of skin cancer that formed a tumour on his tongue.
“We were living in isolation,” Jack said. “We were up in Inuvik and I had to be treated in Edmonton, so that was a bit of a life-changer, but year after year, my checkups were fine and then it’s in the rearview mirror … and then, remarkably or unfortunately, or whatever, 30 years later, it strikes again with a much more serious diagnosis.”
Tom is currently battling brain cancer. His fight is a motivation to do the ride, but the MacNeills have supported Tour de Rock since 1999.
“It certainly contributes a huge part of it, but Dad, being a Mountie in the Cowichan Valley when I was a teenager, he would often volunteer at the Tour de Rock dinners when they came through town, so sort of by de facto, I’d be in the kitchen serving up pasta while he’s in red serge serving plates,” Cydney said.
The summer Cydney was 14, she raised $3,000 to have her hair cut, enough to send one child to Camp Goodtimes, a summer camp in Maple Ridge run by the Canadian Cancer Society for children with cancer and their families. Each year a Cops for Cancer Tour de Rock team of police, firefighters, paramedics and guest riders cycle more than 3,500 kilometres in training to prepare for the 1,100-kilometre tour through communities across Vancouver Island raising donations that support childhood cancer research and programs.
There are coincidences between the careers of the two riders. Cydney entered RCMP’s six-month basic training program in Regina, Sask., in February 2015, the same month Jack retired.
“It’s kind of funny. When my father, in his star-spangled red serge – each star representing five years – is handing me my badge I technically outranked him at that point,” Cydney said.
“She reminded me of that too,” Jack said.
Cydney was the only graduate in her troop to be handed her badge by her father.
Cydney, never an avid cyclist, has had plenty of time in the saddle recently as a Tour de Rock rider and as a new member of Nanaimo RCMP’s bike unit. Jack was on the RCMP bike unit in North Cowichan for two years prior to retiring. He and Cydney took the RCMP mountain bike course together and were the first father-daughter duo there, too.
“The instructors poked a lot of fun at us because we fell the most, too, because we weren’t used to clipping in [to pedals],” Cyney said.
Training for the tour has challenges and rewards, which includes building new friendships. Because of where they live and work, the MacNeills have been able to train with team members from the south and north Island.
“There’s a real good mix of all manner of experience and I do imagine, after maybe eight months, we may get a little bit tired of one another, but right now everybody’s still forming friendships,” Jack said.
Cydney doesn’t like hills, but aside from a spill Jack had on a training ride in West Shore, neither rider finds the training particularly hard. Juggling work, training rides, fundraising events and visiting with their junior riders keeps them busy, though, and involves lots of driving.
Jack is surprised at the confidence he’s building riding in a close pack of cyclists down hills at high speeds. Cydney said she’s surprised at how much weight her father’s losing and she isn’t.
Asking about how the father-daughter relationship is working out on the training rides is the spark that ignites a lively exchange.
“My problem is I have to leave the father-daughter relationship at home,” Jack said.
“Which you don’t,” said Cydney.
“I bring it to the ride and sometimes try to give fatherly guidance, which maybe I shouldn’t,” Jack said.
“And I know where it’s coming from, but it’s like, ‘C’mon, babe. Just push a little further. Switch those gears earlier,’ and I’m just thinking in my head, ‘Bugger off,’ and not usually in those words,” Cydney said.
“We had the same conversation when you were four and I’m teaching you how to ride a bike and giving you guidance there,” Jack said.
“The difference is I was four,” Cydney said.
“And you didn’t listen then either,” Jack said.