A longtime supporter of the Cops for Cancer Tour de Rock is giving up his support role for his turn in the saddle.
For Lance Stephenson, the experience of supporting the tour for the past five years has been “humbling and inspiring,” but this year he’s switched gears to become a rider with the 2023 team.
Stephenson, who is a retired paramedic, has been involved with the Tour de Rock in the central Island as a member of the Nanaimo Tour de Rock fundraising committee since 2018. His wife, Cassie Loveless, also a paramedic, rode with the tour in 2019.
“I honestly never thought I’d be a rider,” Stephenson said. “People, just because of my affiliation with the Tour de Rock, were always saying, ‘When are you gonna ride?’ I was like, ‘Do I look like I’m a rider?’ I could never see myself doing what these riders did … It’s no easy task. Three days a week of training for seven months and more than 4,500 training kilometres and then you do the ride.”
Stephenson’s retirement in December after 42 years as a paramedic, left him, at age 63, with the time to tackle the tour training and fundraising events.
“I think I’m the oldest on the team,” he said. “Nobody will admit they’re older, anyway … When I went on support crew last year I was so impressed with what the riders do and the commitment that they made and then, going into retirement I thought there’s no reason I can’t do this, age or otherwise. There’s guys way older than me that ride their bikes.”
The annual 1,200km cycling tour across Vancouver Island raises money to support Canadian Cancer Society programs that help drive pediatric cancer research and programs and send 600 children each year to Camp Goodtimes, a summer camp for child cancer patients and their families.
Training for the tour is fun, challenging and, at times downright arduous, especially when tackling steep hills in cold or hot weather.
“I know it’s a bit of a cliché for us riders to say … but when I’m having a tough go up a hill and I’m in the granny gear and there’s no more lower gears and I’m thinking I can’t do this, I think about those kids that lay in those beds with all the … tubes and IVs running chemo and think, this will never be as bad as that and when this is done, because this will end today, I will go home, kick back and relax and I’ll go on with a healthy life,” Stephenson said.
He hadn’t ridden a bike since he was 16, but he bought a bicycle last year and started riding with his wife. He could only manage a few kilometres on those first rides, but he recently finished his first 80km ride with the team, which will do rides double that distance and climb the steep Mount Washington Parkway in training before the tour starts in late September.
Stephenson said the toughest part, physically, was getting in shape prior to starting training.
“I knew I couldn’t come in with all the weight I was carrying, so I’ve lost a total now of about 32 pounds and it’s made me feel a lot better,” he said. “So that’s been a big hump, getting into shape, breathing, my respiratory. The bike hasn’t been too hard … and I’m really enjoying being on the bike now … the hardest is the hills. Gravity sucks.”
Getting teamed up with junior riders – the child cancer patients and survivors whom the riders represent on tour – is what Stephenson, who has four children and two grandchildren of his own, said he is most looking forward to next.
“We’re just finding out who those junior riders are that we’re going to be teamed up with,” he said. “And, I think, getting the ride underway. I’m really looking forward to it, to interacting with the public.”
Stephenson’s fundraising goal is $15,000 and said he is receiving support from ambulance crews in Port Alberni, Lantzville Fire Rescue, Lantzville Pub and Nanaimo City Council.
A jail-and-bail fundraising event, where ‘inmates’ must be bailed out with donations for the Tour de Rock, has also been planned for Thursday, June 22, at the Commercial Street Night Market.