Friday night in Niagara Falls (you can ride Toronto to Niagara, Niagara to Toronto, and a few more routes), one of the staff of the event started out the crew meeting by saying something to the effect of 'Your friends might be spending the weekend at the cottage, or having a party, but they wont remember this weekend like you will', and boy was she ever right.
I can hardly put into words how inspiring and moving it is to spend your weekend with approx 6000 other people who all want to kick cancer in the butt, and collectively fundraised $20 MILLION to do so. As a volunteer, you get to see almost every rider come through your pit stop, and while you are giving them food and water you get a small snapshot of everyone's stories, as you ask them how their ride is and they share a bit of themselves with you.
One particular story that I was privileged to get to be a part of was Sylvia's story. Sylvia is an amazing woman who was on my crew. Sylvia's husband Doug passed away from Cancer in February, after a battle of not much more than a year. At the Friday night dinner in the Falls, the captain of the KPMG team was invited to say a few words and he told everyone about how his friend Doug had lost his battle and how Sylvia was volunteering at Pit Stop 2, and how the KPMG team was riding in Doug's memory (with his name on the sleeve of their Jerseys). Needless to say there were a few tears shed at pit stop 2, but there were also hugs from strangers who didn't know Sylvia or Doug, but heard their story and made it a point to find her and give her a hug. Sylvia wrote to me in an email that this was something Doug would have loved helping out with, and to see her doing this for him was truly incredible.
(a photo posted by the ride that happens to feature my friend Jon)
It sounds crazy to say that 6000 strangers can feel like a family, but at the Ride they really do. It doesn't matter who you are, you strike up a conversation and make memories that you wont soon forget. Like Alan and Myra. Myra is blind, and she and Alan ride a tandem bike, and have the most amazing energy. Or like walking through the main tent during the camp ceremony and having thousands of riders all cheering for the volunteers, when they are the ones riding 200+ km, we should be cheering for them! It felt so strange coming back to reality on Monday, and riding a crowded subway to work where strangers don't smile at each other or ask each other how they are doing, or tell each other they are doing a great job!
I went into this weekend with two particular people in my heart whose loss hits way too close, and I left with thousands more. Cancer affects way too many people, and that is a devastating reality, but the amazing researchers and doctors at the Princess Margaret Cancer Foundation, and all the other Cancer research centres around the world, are making progress. The number of new treatments we heard about, or new research currently in clinical trials, makes me hopeful. As does the $20 million. I got involved with this weekend because I wanted to give back, and I came out of it with gratitude and respect and love for all the people who pour their hearts and souls into this cause, into this ride, and into conquering cancer in OUR LIFETIME!
A special shout out to everyone who donated to my fundraising efforts for this ride, that $20 million is all you! And how could I forget to thank my mom! Who slept in a tent and got up at 4am to support me on this journey! <3
See you all at the ride in 2015?!