FOCUS: Dozens of dedicated Ride2Survive cyclists train hard for hope

Preparing for yearly cancer fundraising is just as gruelling – and emotional – as the actual 388-kilometre ride itself

SURREY — It’s early Saturday morning, and what strikes you first is the sheer variety of humanness.

There are males and there are females. There are teenagers, and others well into their 60s. There are skinny people, midsized people, musclebound people and people with a few extra pounds here and there. Sure, there are a few Tour de France prototypes milling about, but the vast majority… well, aren’t.

Soon, all 60 of them are standing in a circle, linked arms and all, in a sort of pre-game huddle.

Training ride leader Rich Gestle has their attention.

(PICTURED: Delta Police Const. Ken Usipiuk, centre, gets a “ride-by” visit, along with dad, right, and wife Natasha, left.)

“A lot of people, a lot of us wearing yellow jerseys, wouldn’t be here without the advancements that have been made because of the money that we’ve raised through the years and the principles we stand by,” Gestle tells them. “This group is so special… I could go on. Anyway, remember, when your legs are hurting, remember this.”

Gestle’s eyes are wet now and the group is laughing and cheering as if they knew he’d get all emotional on them. A cancer survivor himself  – he’s been clear for 11 years – the North Delta man is a hard rock kind of guy with a heart of gold and personal experience with the disease they’re fighting.

It’s a practice ride day for the local Ride2Survive crew, and soon Gestle and his peers will take to the streets. Starting as they do most practice days at Cap’s South Shore Cycle on the Surrey-North Delta border – the store has long been a big supporter of the ride – today they’ll zip down to South Surrey and then wind their way to Fort Langley.

It’ll be 133 kilometres in all.

Gestle acknowledges the leg pain some will feel and that many more will feel on the 388-kilometre event day, on June 18, when they’ll somehow pedal all the way from Kelowna back to Cap’s in North Delta. But cycling leg pain is nothing, he says, compared to the pain of cancer.

“You’ve got to suck it up.”

Fleetwood’s Huss Slamang, standing proudly beside his new Trek Bike, will suck it up. He rode Saturday and again on June 18th for the people he knows who’ve been afflicted with the disease.

“Being a firefighter, I have lots of friends who’ve gone through cancer and are still going through cancer. I’ve lost lots of them within the last few years,” said Slamang.

“Firefighters are more susceptible to cancer because of the toxins we breathe. Nowadays we use and have the proper protection, but 20 years ago…not so much. And it’s personal too. Both my in-laws are battling cancer right now.”

Although this is Slamang’s first year with Ride2Survive, he is no stranger to the process. He’s taken part in other rides for cancer but made the switch because he likes the fact that 100 per cent of what Ride2Survive raises goes directly to the Canadian Cancer Society.

“That was a big thing for me,” he said. “When you’re trying to raise money and you can tell them all the money goes to fighting cancer, that’s what I like to be assured of.”

And make no mistake – beyond cycling endurance, raising money for cancer research is what this whole thing is about. Just to partake, you need to raise $2,500. Registration is another $250. Granted, ride day comes complete with a ton of support vehicles and top-notch food and refreshments all the way from Kelowna to North Delta, but the cancer fight is expensive and participants are expected to bring the bucks.

Surrey’s Al Jenkins has been there from the early days.

“It started in Kelowna. It was just a small group of riders. It was based on Dave Barber, a fellow who used to work here at Cap’s. He moved to Kelowna and he was recovering from cancer and he was a cyclist, and they said ‘Let’s do something for cancer and we’ll make a ride out of it as well.’”

Jenkins said the hardest parts of the ride are in the tortuous 55-kilometre climb from Kelowna to Pennask Summit on the Coquihalla Connector and the significantly shorter but arguably more troublesome hike between Agassiz and Mission near the end.

“You’ve got about 300 kilometres on your legs, and it’s a 13-per-cent grade, and it goes on for about two and a half kilometres. People are fatigued at that point and then you’ve got to climb this steep grade.”

But he also discusses the many rest stops on route, the incredible food (Gestle likens it to a 388-kilometre wedding buffet), and how even casual riders might be surprised at what they’re able to pull off within the supportive Ride environment.

“And we’ve raised over $4 million dollars to date,” Jenkins said. “Every year, it just gets bigger and better.”

At 65, Surrey’s Keld Jensen regularly rides long distances just for the health of it. But he too has been touched by cancer. His wife beat breast cancer five years ago and one of his close friends is battling prostate cancer.

Indeed, Jensen and the entire group will stop in at Davis’ home in Fort Langley during their ride today. They call such stops “ride-bys” and it’s what they do for family and friends during their practice season.

But the first ride-by of the day will be at the North Delta home of Delta Police Const. Ken Usipiuk.

Usipiuk has been involved with the ride, as a media liaison and as its lead escort, for years now, and is convalescing after heart surgery just a week prior. The fact that Usipiuk’s father is also fighting cancer makes this stop doubly important.

And then, they’re off. Just 10 minutes to Usipuk’s home, and then a full day of riding throughout the western Fraser Valley. There is chatter as they ride and it’s all upbeat. No time for sorrow now – they’re riding for hope.

For more information about, or to donate to Ride2Survive, please visit ride2survive.ca.

BELOW: RAW VIDEO OF RIDE2SURVIVE CYCLISTS ARRIVING IN NORTH DELTA IN 2014:

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