Ride to Conquer Cancer – Day Zero

Prologue: I want to start by thanking everyone who helped me with my participation in The Ride to Conquer Cancer. From those who donated, to the people who encouraged others to donate, to the people who encouraged me, to the people who provided transportation and helped me with art work and the Internet stuff… thank you very much, all of you. It was one of the great experiences of my life.

If you’re reading this and haven’t read my earlier post on the subject, the Ride to Conquer Cancer is a 200km cycle tour of South-western Ontario, Canada. Beginning in Toronto and ending in Niagara Falls the next day, the purpose is to raise funds to continue the cancer research that takes place at Princess Margaret Hospital in Toronto.

I’ve been facing a kind of ‘blogger’s block’ for the last few months, but this seems the perfect subject to use to break it. I’ve decided to take three days to tell you about the three days of the Ride. It is after all how I experienced it.

Day Zero: To say that I was of mixed emotions heading into this is an understatement. My emotions ranged from excitement, to trepidation, to exhilaration, to mind numbing fear. I’m 54 years old (in August), carrying about 25 lbs more than I should be, and my only claim to being in shape stems from the fact that round is, by definition, a shape.

As my brother Alex and I (he drove me down) entered the Direct Energy Centre at the CNE grounds in Toronto I was immediately overwhelmed by the shear number of people there. But even more remarkable to me was the number of medical staff from the Princess Margaret Hospital who greeted us at the door, shook ours hands and offered a very warm and obviously genuine “Thank You!” Most notable for me was meeting Dr. Robert Buckman, a medical oncologist I’ve seen interviewed a number of times on various news and information programs on CTV and the Discovery Channel.

Then began the check-in process which, as is often the case when thousands of people are involved, consisted of standing in a series of long lines for the opportunity to accomplish a rather short task. To be fair, considering the size of the event, the lines moved rather smoothly. We rarely stood still for long, creeping slowly forward, guided by volunteers and staff who made sure you were in the right line and had all the things you would need when you arrived at the front of the line.

As we went along Alex kept taking pictures and marveling at the organization. Then he said said something I wasn’t expecting. He was so impressed with it all that he wished he was going along with me. What struck me most about this was the fact that he was the reason I was there.

You see Alex used to really enjoy riding his bicycle. Then in his last year of high school they discovered cancer in his shoulder joint. At the time (over two decades ago now) the only way to save Alex’s life was to remove the infected area. For Alex that meant amputating his right shoulder, and of course the arm with it.

I will never forget standing on the fifth floor of the hospital as Alex told me how he had considered jumping from one of the balconies. Feeling nearly as helpless as he did, I had little comfort to offer. We stood there silent for a very long time.

Alex proved to be a lot tougher than he thought. Today he has a good career as an engineering CAD technician type. He’s got a great wife – Joan, and a terrific son named Jacob. However, with only one arm, he found that controlling a bicycle was just too difficult for him, and good quality trikes are kind of expensive, so – he wrote it off and went on to other things, all of which he does extremely well.

But I have never forgotten the kid brother who loved to ride his bike. That’s why, when I heard about the Ride to Conquer Cancer, it seemed to right thing to do. Since Alex couldn’t ride, I would because thanks to cancer research, I still have my brother around. Unfortunately, the medical technology of the day couldn’t save our father when he contracted colon cancer a few years later. But maybe, with a lot of dedication, and a lot more money, we can indeed see cancer conquered in our lifetime. The Ride just seemed the best way to give back.

Back to the check-in. Things were going quite smoothly, my donations ($3000- thanks again) were more than enough to qualify me for the ride. All my ID etc. was in order, I’d seen the required safety video, signed my waiver and received my tent assignment. It was tent number F24, I’d find out who my tent-mate was when I got there. Then came time to collect my Ride jersey.

I distinctly remember marking my registration form 10 months earlier “Jersey size = XL.” My paper work said “Jersey size = XL.” And yet they had run out of XL jerseys. They offered me a large and said they would try to get me another one the right size in the morning. Oh well.. at least I’ll have a souvenir and Roberta will have a cycling jersey to wear.

We had attached the survivor flag to my bike (because I was riding for Alex) and were making our way out of the centre when Alex suddenly gave out one of his distinctive, “Ooooh!”s. This is a sound that can only mean, “Wait a second, I see an interesting piece of technology that must be examined regardless of how serious the natural disaster currently in progress might be!

He had spotted a rather impressive tricycle. One that appealed to his sense of engineering more than most others he had looked at. He started taking pictures, making sure that he had enough data to reproduce the technology if the opportunity presented itself. As a final act he stuck a business card into one side of the double water-bottle cage. Scrawled on the back was a plea for information on where such a bike might be acquired.

Well that’s about it for Day Zero. Alex and I had a late supper on the way back to Guelph, and arranged the wake calls to ensure I would be there for the start of Day One. But that’s a story for tomorrow.

Check out the Ride to Conquer Cancer Album on my home page.


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