Ex-NHLers on ‘Ride for Hope’ to Surrey

SURREY – At 6 p.m. Wednesday (July 9), a time when most people were throwing off the shackles of their workaday world and chowing down over a dinner table, a convoy of 42 hardcore cyclists pulled into the parking lot at The Shops at Morgan Crossing. They’d been on the road since 9:30 that morning, launching their long journey in the far-flung town of Hope and busting their legs and lungs through 150 kilometres, stopping in Chilliwack and Abbotsford along the way.

You didn’t need to be a particularly keen observer to know this was no mere long-distance ride. The full-blown police escort was the first clue. The gaggle of support vehicles was the second. The live music, the barbecues, the waiting crowd of well-wishers, the mere presence of Vancouver Canucks mascot FIN – yep, this certainly looked liked something different, something special.

And it was. The welcome-back event celebrated the eighth annual edition of the “Ride for Hope,” a marathon bike trek that debuted in 2007, expressly to benefit Canuck Place Children’s Hospice.

“We started the Ride to give back to the community,” explained a surprisingly energetic and compellingly enthusiastic Jeff Bandura, minutes after completing this year’s edition and between hugs from the very large and very enveloping FIN.

“The Canucks for Kids Fund and Canuck Place are dear to our hearts, and we do this to create awareness and raise funds.”

Bandura, founder and director of the event, in many ways epitomizes what seems to be the typical Ride for Hope participant profile: a middle-aged rider who keeps him/herself in great shape and goes to great distances (literally) for Canucks-centric kids charities.

But there’s another connection too: Several of the most established riders are also veterans of pro hockey.

Bandura, for example, was a secondround draft choice of the 1977 Vancouver Canucks. Ron Spratt, with more muscles than a body-building competition, toiled for two seasons in the late-1960s with the Charlotte Checkers of the EHL.

Big Gary Nylund, he with the toastersized hands, cruised through the NHL for nearly a decade in the 1980s and 1990s, where he was known for the very same nofear style that surfaced again in 2001 when, in his new career as a Delta Firefighter, he helped rescue two colleagues during a raging chemical fire on Annacis Island.

In his sixth year with the Ride, Nylund says, “I’m getting old but I’m going to do it

as long as I can do it.”

So, how does a long bike ride equate to money? According to Bandura, “All of the riders set up ‘Precious Pages’ (for donations) from Canuck Place, and…it’s our co-workers, our companies that we represent, or the sponsors such as London Drugs, Bayview Towing, and Homelife Benchmark…that’s where the money comes from.”

This year, the welcoming committee had to wait an extra half-hour at Morgan Crossing for the pack to arrive.

Nothing serious, said Bandura. “The headwinds were tough coming out of Yarrow. Other than that, we had a couple of flat tires today, but nothing major. And I think one of the RCMP motorcycles had a brake problem. But it was a great day overall.”

Such are the unforeseen tribulations of an event of this magnitude.

But as the sweet sounds of country/pop duo Robyn & Ryleigh filled the earlyevening air, as FIN danced crazily on the deck of a Bayview tow truck, as the cops and the riders and the sponsors and the general crowd mingled together, and as the knowledge that the eighth edition of the Ride for Hope likely raised nearly $100,000 for the Canucks for Kids Fund echoed in the minds of those in the know, there was no question it was all worth it.

goble@shaw.ca