It's a wet cold Sunday morning and instead of sleeping in my warm bed, I am cycling. Every spring, this has become a ritual. As the cold bites through my nose and forehead, I tilt my head to the wind and the rain and peddle on. This time alone with the elements gives me time to think about not why I ride, but why I didn't ride before.
Could my efforts have saved my mother, my uncles, countless friends and acquaintances? Maybe they could have saved my friend, the young Ryan Marston. They were all stronger than me, more dedicated to their fight than I. My wife joins me on my rides, and even she is stronger than I. The wind pushes me sideways in blasts like the dryer at the end of the car wash as the rain runs into my shoes. We peddle on.
This fight is no longer theirs; it has become ours and thousands of other riders' who have braved the elements day in and day out. We are not alone in this struggle but we are now taking the fight back against cancer. We have had enough.
In early May, we buried an amazing 19-year-old boy. This was Ryan Marston, an inspiration to us all. He fought the good fight three times before finally losing his battle, but in his passing, this young man left behind a legacy -- he was determined not to be forgotten, though he did not know it then. He left behind televisions and game consoles for other young people like him undergoing cancer treatment in Toronto. He left behind courage, bravery, strength.
My fingers tighten around the handlebars as a transport truck brushes past me and my bike shudders as the airstream threatens to pull me into the beast. It is not always easy out here on the road, but life is not easy, life is not safe. Ryan knew that and now we must take up Ryan's struggle. He carried the Pan Am torch last year through Keswick, Ont. and that proverbial torch has been passed on to us. I am cold, I am tired and wish I was still in bed, but my wife, Lesley and I ride on. Her strength and those that have gone before us push me further on down the road on this lonely, damp Sunday morning.
The hardest part is not the training, the cold dark lonely mornings on the bike. It is the calls and emails to ask for support year after year. That is truly the hardest part. Friends and family have been supportive and work colleagues are always there, but it is the asking that is hard. So, when you get the email or the call to support the Enbridge Ride to Conquer Cancer, know that we would not be asking if we weren't already giving our own pound of flesh on those cold, lonely mornings training to ride to raise money to eradicate the beast that has taken so much from us all.
The Ride is Canada's largest cycling fundraiser, raising over $138 million for personalized cancer medicine at Princess Margaret Cancer Centre, and the 2016 Ride takes place this weekend, on June 11-12. Together, we'll cycle 200 kilometres on one of six routes from Toronto to Niagara Falls, stopping in Hamilton.
Some of us will have yellow survivor flags on their bikes, celebrating that they have conquered this disease. Others will have names of loved ones lost and loved ones still fighting on their jerseys and in their hearts. Several riders may even be patients themselves, tackling every kilometre just like every challenge they've encountered since they heard the words, dreaming of a day when they too can sport a yellow flag, standing tall.
With your help, we can conquer cancer in our lifetime and save the lives of mothers, fathers, uncles, aunts and our children like young Ryan Marston. Together, we can ensure more people get that yellow flag.
In the meantime, we train and we ride and think about the lives and the love we have lost. Yet, with hope for the future, we push on.
It is not too late to donate. Visit conquercancer.ca.
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