Aldergrove’s Andy Bhatti is gearing up to ride 525 kilometres from Vernon to Vancouver starting Monday — all to raise awareness and funds to help young victims of sexual abuse.
While he will ride some pretty gruelling terrain, with hills and perhaps bad weather, he said it’s nothing compared to the life of hiding his sexual abuse behind a heroin-induced crime lifestyle he lived for more than 15 years.
“Hey, if I can smoke crack and stay up for days at a time, I can do this,” said Bhatti on Tuesday. “I’m 100 per cent ready.”
The 35-year-old has come a long way from 60 convictions, jail cells and the Downtown Eastside. He is now rubbing elbows with numerous celebrities, NHL hockey stars, politicians, BC Lions and others, all who have stood behind him in his efforts to raise awareness and funds to help children who have been sexually abused.
“That’s the big message: if you have been sexually abused, get help early,” he said. Bhatti wishes he had.
“If I can change, anyone can,” he said. “I realized, I can be the change. If you can be a voice to carry this message to even one child, then I have to try.”
Bhatti has organized fundraisers along his ride, including one at a pub in Vernon. He will end his ride with a dinner gala at the Sheraton Wall Centre on July 20, with celebrity appearances, and entertainment by singer Stacey McKitrick.
One of the speakers of the night will be the RCMP officer who tracked Bhatti down to tell him his abuser had been caught sexually assaulting two other kids. All proceeds from the $100 tickets to the gala are going to Sophie’s Place in Surrey, a safe place where children who have been sexually abused can come for help.
“It’s an amazing organization with really nice people running it,” said Bhatti. “But it’s expensive to run and they need money.”
Since dedicating funds to Sophie’s Place, he has met with Sophie Simmons several times. Simmons is the daughter of KISS star Gene Simmons, who also was in a popular reality show about her family life. Sophie’s mom is a Canadian, and last week KISS donated $10,000 to the centre.
To start the ride in Vernon is significant, because that’s where the man who sexually abused him, Joseph Douglas Baker, went to live after victimizing him. He went on to sexually abuse two other boys under the age of 10 when he went there.
In 2008, Bhatti’s abuser pleaded guilty to nine counts of sexually assault and inviting sexual touching involving three children under the age of 14. In a Vernon court he was sentenced to three years in jail. He has been out of jail for a while.
It was in the late 1980s, when Bhatti’s mom signed him up with Langley’s Big Brothers. He already been a part of the organization and was having a great time. Unbeknown to the Big Brothers organization, he was matched with a predator — and the sexual abuse almost began immediately, lasting four years before Bhatti found the courage to break away.
But the damage had been done. By then, Bhatti had been kicked out of schools, acting out violently at every turn, doing drugs to mask the pain. Everyone around him, including his family, thought he had turned into a monster, was a punk kid. Little did anyone know he was enduring sexual abuse.
His life spiraled into hell. He became a full-blown heroin addict by 16 and lived a life of crime and addiction, often calling the Downtown Eastside his home and running from police. With more than 60 convictions, he spent most of his time in jail.
But he never told anyone about the abuse. That was until police came knocking on his door asking him if he was a victim of his Big Brother, after they had arrested the pedophile for abusing the two boys in Vernon. From there he confessed it all, and started getting help. Reaching out for counselling and group therapy through Men of Hope and B.C. Male Survivors of Sexual Abuse Society.
Bhatti hosted the successful Men of Hope Poker Tournament in April at the Aldergrove Legion. That fundraiser, which saw numerous celebrities and sports stars play and sign autographs, raised $23,000 towards helping male survivors of sexual abuse.
Spokes donated two bikes for Bhatti’s ride and Cranky’s in Aldergrove has outfitted him. Bhatti will start his ride out of Aldergrove at the Save-On Foods on Saturday, July 20 at 8:30 a.m. and at the 64 Avenue Save-On Foods at 10:30 a.m. People are welcome to donate.
To buy tickets to the gala or donate, call Sophie’s Place at 604-591-5903.