Aaron Hinks photo Ride2Survive participants made their way to the Clayton Crossing Shopping Centre parking lot to raise awareness and funds prior to the June 24 event. Ride2Survive participants made their way to the Clayton Crossings Shopping Centre parking lot Saturday afternoon to raise awareness and funds for the June 24 event. (Aaron Hinks photo)

Cancer survivors determined to make a difference

Kelowna-to-Delta Ride2Survive begins early Saturday morning

Hours before sunrise last Saturday, a group of 110 cyclists started one of the more intense – yet rewarding – rides of their lives.

They’ve been preparing for the Ride2Survive event since February, and some struggled to complete a 40-km ride in the beginning.

Now, after months of exhaustive training and mental preparation, the group completed a 388-km ride through some of Canada’s most difficult terrain, leaving Kelowna at 3:30 a.m. and arriving in Delta at 10:20 p.m. – 40 minutes ahead of schedule.

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 moved 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.

Training captain Rich Gestle, from North Delta, was one of the riders wearing yellow.

Gestle had stage-three thyroid cancer 12½ years 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 told Peace Arch News last week.

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 Ride2Survive event is dedicated to the Canadian Cancer Society. As of PAN press time Thursday morning, the group had surpassed their $600,000 by $30,000.

Event organizers Kerry Kunzli and his wife Vicki said this year’s event was the best they’ve had since it was founded 13 years ago.

Kunzli said the riding conditions were perfect, although the heat was “hard on people, a lot of people got beat up because of the heat.” Kunzli said every rider has his or her own way to endure the physical and mental strain.

“Some of the riders will write the names of loved ones on their legs so they can see them. Some put pictures on the top tube of the bike so when they look down they will be reminded of why they’re doing it,” Kunzli said.

“Over the years, I’ve been riding, I’m hurting, my legs are tired and going up a big long hill. I come up beside a guy who was on chemo six months earlier and he’s got a big smile on his face, he’s having a great day even though it’s hard… You realize, holy crap, they are so happy to be here – period – let alone worrying about a little work on a climb.”

South Surrey’s Simone Porter participated in the ride for the second time.

She said she was inspired to reenlist this year due to the brotherhood, determination of the group and dedication from the event organizers.

“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 PAN.

Approximately 800 people welcomed the riders – which ranged in age from 17 to 70 – into North Delta on Saturday.

Over the years, the event has raised approximately $6 million.

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