This year’s Cops for Cancer Tour de Rock Riders might be beaten up by the weather and crashes, but their spirits are buoyed by the cause they’re riding for.
The team rolled in tight formation into Diana Krall Plaza in downtown Nanaimo Monday morning after fuelling up on a pancake breakfast at Investors Group and making several stops to sponsors along the way.
Rain and a pro D day meant a crowd about 100 well wishers and supporters turned out to the plaza, but the team was piped in and head shaves and several cheque presentations meant the team rode off with a fair chunk of cash. A fundraiser gala at the Coast Bastion Inn Sunday night also raised $16,000 to help fight paediatric cancer.
If the weather can be blamed for keeping crowds home, it has been responsible for one of the wettest and most challenging rides in the tour’s history.
With the first week of the 1,100 km cross Island ride behind them, team members have beaten their way through torrential rain and had their share of spills and equipment failures.
“A couple riders have crashed and one rider has two cracked ribs and is bleeding internally, but still riding,” said Const. Misty Dmytar, representing Nanaimo RCMP detachment. “Another one crashed and his whole leg is ratched up. For me, both of my achilles [tendons] are shot and my left knee is aching pretty bad, but the physical challenges are nothing compared to what families go through when their child has cancer, so you get back on your bike and you think about those families.”
Dmytar draws strength from the personal experience of her son Griffyn’s battle with cancer.
“I look down at his picture that’s on my bike and I put a big grin on my face and I gear down and I just go up those hills,” Dmytar said.
Hydro Hill, the steepest hill on the tour route, got the best, not of man, but machine Saturday as the riders made their way through pounding rain from Port Alberni to Ucluelet.
“Going up the hill was a major, major challenge,” said Arnold Lim, representing Black Press on the team this year. “As I was standing [to pedal] the rear derailleur snapped off and hit me in the back of the leg, so I have some bruising and cuts on the back of my leg, so that was a challenge.”
Once over the Hydro Hill summit, the team was taken off the road and transported into Ucluelet for safety reasons due to the extreme weather. In heavy rainfall bicycle brakes and simply stop working, plus sections of the highway past the summit is under repair and have just a loose gravel gravel surface.
Lim’s most emotional moment came when he met six-year-old Hope Kopeck in Cumberland who has a tumour wrapped around her aorta and spine.
“We had a chance to speak briefly and she just absolutely blew my mind,” Lim said. “You know there are days when you think your life is hard or your job is difficult or you’re tired or you’ve got a cold, but just watching her and how she lives her life made me very proud to just be a part of the Tour de Rock and just to know her. That was a life-changing moment for me.”
Const. Ed de Jong, from Gabriola Island, said biking with the kids in Sayward ranks among the most emotional moments on the tour. It’s a tradition for the team and school children to ride around a pond together before the tour departs for Campbell River, but feelings were stirred up in Port McNeill on the second day of the tour when the riders visited their first school.
“It was actually the first day I got choked up on tour just because that’s why we’re doing it is for the kids,” de Jong said. “To me, I could do that all day. I love that stuff. That was the first school to we went to and I was surprised at how choked up I got.”
de Jong and his son Tyson, 11, both had their heads shaved to raise donations during the downtown festivities.
The tour runs a tight schedule and after the riders ate lunch, watched entertainment, accepted cheques, handed out appreciation plaques to sponsors, took part in head shaves and shared a few experiences, their 75 minutes in downtown Nanaimo seemed to be over in a blink of an eye and the riders were mounting up and heading out to Ladysmith for an afternoon community fundraiser event and dinner.
To the riders, it will be one of a blur of stops at communities throughout the south Island where the population rises and the grinding schedule of visits to schools and sponsors really starts to ramp up. When that happens the only rest for the team comes in the rides between those stops and each rider gets a few moments to reflect on a few special memories picked up along the road that will stay with them forever.