Saturday, September 23, 2006

Cops for Cancer
Sept. 22, 2006

In homes scattered around the Island, 21 amateur cyclists will be spending tonight preparing for what just may be the most significant athletic event of their lives. They will ride more miles, cry more tears and raise more money over the next two weeks than any of them would have thought possible mere months ago.
My own Tour de Rock ride for the Canadian Cancer Society is five years past now, and I doubt that I’ll ever grow so nostalgic as to forget how much hard work it was to get ready for that ride. But the power of the 1,000-kilometre journey has also stayed with me, as it no doubt has for every team of riders since the debut of the Cops for Cancer fundraiser nine years ago.
This year’s riders leave Victoria tomorrow for the van ride to Port Hardy, where the long and hilly ride south will begin first thing Sunday morning. For two intense weeks, they’ll ride several hours a day with no mind to the weather, and climb any number of daunting hills.
They’ll have their heads shaved and in turn shave the heads of others, and preside over dozens of raffles, draws, contests and car washes staged in their honour. They’ll ride past throngs of supporters in communities up and down the Island, and race tricycles and grocery carts across shopping-mall parking lots. They’ll pay sombre visits to cancer wards, looking for hope in the sad stories of worried families.
And along the way, they’ll raise more than a million dollars for children with cancer.
Team members are primarily police and emergency personnel. “Media riders” such as myself have been included in most of the annual rides, but it’s the police who are deservedly the stars of the event.
They’re given rock-star welcomes by the Island youngsters who cram into school gymnasiums to meet the team during the ride, and feted by countless community groups that have spent months raising money for the cause. I saw for myself the impact that it had on police to feel so beloved by their communities.
Police and media aren’t necessarily the best of friends, so one of the spinoff benefits of my ride of 2001 was getting to know the people behind the uniforms. As a group, police turned out to be a lot of fun, and they really get the team thing. I knew there were some mixed feelings initially among the group about having me along, but I never felt any less than a full member of the team.
The two-week ride from Port Hardy is the showy part of the Tour de Rock, but the real work is done in the months leading up to the trip.
Canadian Cancer Society reps essentially work year-round on the logistics of the ride, including developing the vital community connections that spawn the many fundraisers that are the backbone of the Tour de Rock campaign. Community groups get going on those fundraisers from almost the moment that the previous year’s Tour de Rock wraps up, with the goal of accumulating enough for an impressive cheque when the riders pass through town the following year.
The riders spend months getting ready as well. By May, tour riders are putting in at least 200 kilometres a week, a pace that continues right through the summer. Tour de Rock riders not only have to be fit enough to complete the ride, but to finish each day’s leg with enough energy to take part in the community events that are an essential component of the fundraiser.
I guess it’s for that reason that every memory I have of the summer of 2001 is related to training for Tour de Rock. Every aspect of my life - diet, head space, fitness level, sleep patterns - was determined by the need to prepare.
I started every shower with three minutes of ice cold water on my aching legs, in hopes that I could shock them back to life in time for the next training ride. I packed Power Gels with me wherever I went, having come to revere the weird little packets of goo for their ability to bring me back from the dead. I talked incessantly about hills, drafting and flat tires, and considered just about anybody’s advice on how to improve my performance.
And then one day, it was time for the tour. We were athletes by then, but the sporting prowess we’d spent all those hours developing quickly took a back seat to the real purpose of the ride once we were underway. Cops ride because cancer kills, and God bless them for it.
The ride’s a one-shot deal for those who take part in it, and I’m not so sure I’d want to do it again anyway. But my heart’s out there with the riders this weekend. I wish them the time of their lives.

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