Cross-Canada ride for the children
By Darren Lum
Published July 27, 2017
The epic scale of the Sears National Kids Cancer Ride is only matched by the lifetime of challenges that face children with cancer during treatment and long after.
The National Kids Cancer Ride begins in Vancouver on Sept. 6 and will finish in Halifax 17 days later on Sept. 23. The Coast to Coast Against Cancer Foundation has held this fundraising ride for 10 years and it is one of the biggest charity cycling events to fight childhood cancer in the world. It helps with funding research and programming to help children.
Long-time cottagers on Bat Lake and avid cyclists Steve and Kelly Hawkins are preparing to participate in this supported ride with a group of other cyclists. This is Kelly’s third ride (she rode in 2013 and 2015) and she has been helping her husband with his first attempt.
They have spent the past two weeks in the area riding and accumulating the necessary miles, averaging close to 400 kilometres a week. The Highlands is the ideal training ground for the most difficult days in the saddle, Kelly said.
Kelly has ridden in honour of children with cancer in her other years, but this year’s ride is to commemorate Steve’s late cousin Karen Hawkins, who died from cancer-related complications at 44 in 2005. Karen was seven when she was diagnosed with retroperitoneal sarcoma – rare cancer that attacks muscle, bone, nerves, cartilage, tendons and blood vessels. The treatments that saved her life also left her with one functioning kidney, compromised lungs, a thoracic cavity that never developed to synchronize with her body, osteoporosis and many other health challenges.
“Effectively, the treatment that enabled her to thrive through adolescence eventually caused her health to severely decline as an adult,” an online passage by Steve and Kelly reads.
Steve said he spent many summers cottaging with Karen and her family on Bat Lake. The family cottages were built by their dads with the help of their great uncle Cecil Barry.
The Hawkins will be in one of three groups, totalling 40 riders, who are riding across the country. They will be a part of the largest group that will be averaging 160 kilometres a day while the second smaller group will be faster, averaging 220 kilometres a day. In honour of the 10th anniversary there will also be a chase group of eight, who will ride in a relay, alternating to travel all day and night, reaching up to 720 kilometres a day following behind. They are expected to cross the country in eight days and catch the other 36 riders in Lower Sackville, New Brunswick, the last stop before the end. This group includes Coast to Coast founder Jeff Rushton, who is a former RAAM (Ride Across America) record holder.
The ride for Kelly and Steve depends on planning and a large team of volunteers who are with them and who are preparing for their arrival at different places along the way. Stops include Sears department stores for starts and finishes to ride days as well as community centres. Each day begins at 5:30 a.m. and each ride starts with a dedication. It reminds the riders like Kelly of why they ride and that no matter how challenging a day has been it pales in comparison to what children with cancer face.
“Our worst day on the bike is the best day of cancer treatment,” she said.
The team sleeps in the back of a transport truck. During the ride, they’re followed by a recreational vehicle, a support vehicle with a nurse and mechanic to help in case of medical or mechanical issues. The train of riders will stop for food and snacks every few hours usually ending close to 6 p.m., depending on weather. They never ride in the dark.
Getting to see parts of the country from the bike has opened Kelly’s eyes to the beauty of what it has to offer. There is great satisfaction and an inspiration from seeing familiar faces of family along the way, which Steve is looking forward to on his first ride.
Kelly wasn’t certain there was going to be a third ride, but when her husband expressed a desire to ride this year she was compelled to participate. She said knowing what’s in store is both an advantage and a disadvantage.
When it comes to the challenges of riding across Canada, besides the inclement weather, the physical test is riding through Northern Ontario, Kelly said. There is relentless nature of the terrain with ascents and descents, often in poor weather, which is far more difficult than the gradual ascent into the mountains of Alberta. Added to Ontario is the emotional aspect of visiting Terry Fox’s monument. The group will spend six days of the 17 total in Northern Ontario.
The last time Kelly rode she remembers how a cancer survivor in the group encouraged the riders and reminded them of the importance of their ride during the most difficult days.
“Guys, there are kids in the hospital who are hurting 10 times worse than you. We’re supposed to be doing this to inspire people that you can make it through stuff. So get on your bike,” Kelly recalls the young woman saying.
Kelly will have raised more than $200,000 and rode more than 10,000 kilometres after this coming ride in September. Together the Hawkins are working to raise $100,000. Up to now the couple has raised almost $63,000 from 89 sponsors. To contribute, go to nationalkidscancerride.com, click on “2017 national riders” and scroll to Kelly and Steve Hawkins.