Cancer survivors determined to make a difference

Kelowna-to-Delta Ride2Survive begins early Saturday morning

Hours before the sun rises tomorrow morning, a group of 110 cyclists will have started one of the more intense – yet rewarding – rides of their life.

They’ve been preparing for this event since February, some of whom struggled to complete a 40-km ride in the beginning.

Now, after months of exhaustive training and mental preparation, the group will tackle a 388-km ride through some of Canada’s most difficult terrain, leaving Kelowna at 3:30 a.m. and arriving in Delta at 11 p.m.

For the home-stretch of the gruelling ride – which has a total elevation climb of more than 3,600 metres (three times the height of Grouse Mountain) – men and women wearing yellow jerseys will move to the front of the pack.

Those riders, and many like them sitting on the sidelines, in hospitals, or unable to attend, are the reason this ride exists.

They are cancer survivors.

About 40 of the participants made more than 35 stops in Surrey, White Rock and Delta last weekend to raise awareness and funds for the June 24 Ride2Survive event.

Leading the pack, and wearing a yellow jersey, was Rich Gestle from North Delta.

Gestle had stage-three thyroid cancer 12½years ago. After two surgeries and two rounds of radiation, he was cleared of the disease and joined the Ride2Survive “just to see what it was like.”

“Then just seeing the community that was involved, it just hooked me,” he said last Saturday at one of the stops in the Clayton Crossings Shopping Centre (18775 Fraser Hwy.) parking lot.

Through the years, Gestle said he’s heard countless stories of people beating cancer.

“To hear the victories is always encouraging and it’s getting better all the time,” he said. “What was a diagnosis 15-20 years ago and that outcome is not what it is today. Today, the survivor rate and everything is getting much better. There are still harder cancers to fight, like brain cancer and pancreatic cancer. We’ve been trying to target our money to those.”

Money raised through this year’s event will be dedicated to the Canadian Cancer Society. As of last weekend, the participants have reached $435,500 of their $600,000 goal, but Gestle says the target is never written in stone.

“We try to go as high as we can, we like to go half a million every year. We like $600,000 even more.”

South Surrey’s Simone Porter participated in last year’s event for the physical challenge. Admittedly out of shape at the time, she said she was inspired to complete the ride last year and reenlist this year due to the brotherhood, determination of the group and dedication from event organizers Vicki Kunzli and her husband Kerry.

“It’s kind of an elevated spirit, being around these people. That’s the only way I can describe it. They don’t just say it, they live it,” Porter told Peace Arch News.

There’s one moment from last year’s event that stuck with her.

She described being called into a meeting the night before last year’s ride with all participating riders and volunteers. At first, she thought it was a logistical meeting.

“Nope… each one of us had about 30 seconds to a minute to say what this experience meant for us. There was one man that stood up; he said he remembered his last normal day. He defined that as the last day before he found out he had cancer,” she recalled.

“After we got through 175 people plus volunteers explaining to us why they were there, it really puts your life in a very different perspective.”

After spending about 10 minutes in the Clayton Crossings parking lot – where some riders grabbed a free hot-dog for some much needed calories – they were off to their next destination.

But before they left, they posed for a photograph underneath a fully extended scissor lift. Standing in the lift was Delta Police acting Sgt. Ray Warren and Const. Suki Thind. The officers pledged to stay in the lift – which featured a portable toilet – for 50 consecutive hours.

As of Saturday afternoon, the officers and community volunteers were able to raise approximately $7,000 of their $20,000 goal.