Over 2,000 people won’t be cycling into Hope this year, as organizers have postponed the Ride to Conquer Cancer to August 2021.
As with many major events in the Fraser Valley and beyond, organizers made the decision to cancel the event to protect the health of at-risk individuals, including people with cancer, amid the COVID-19 pandemic. The ride is a major fundraiser for the BC Cancer Foundation, anticipated to gather between $8 to $10 million annually for research and care innovations for people with cancer in the province.
The two-day, 200 kilometre cycling fundraiser, in its 12th year, used to run from Cloverdale to Washington state and back. In 2018, organizers made the decision to change the finish line to Hope, B.C. yet were forced to end the ride in Chilliwack due a wildfire burning along one of the two highways heading into the community from the Fraser Valley. In 2019 the ride finally made it to Hope.
Riders often start training well ahead of the summer ride, with training rides alone and together with their teams. Cathy Harry, manager at Hope’s Kal Tire, saw the ride on TV a few years ago and the next morning had decided she’d do it.
She started riding in December in preparation her fifth ride together with her son-in-law Yan. “But now I’m going to do the fifth on my sixtieth birthday,” she said resolutely.
Yan has a different approach to training, Harry said, he jumps on the bike the day of the ride. “He does a little bit of whining along the way because he’s sore a bit, but then…I’ll say ‘you don’t want your mother in law to go over the finish line without you,’” she laughed. “It’s a good bonding time.”
The circa 2,000 riders don’t only train to take on the 200 kilometre ride, they also fundraise. Each rider needs to raise a minimum of $2,500 to take part in the ride and many go well over. The ride raised $10.6 million in 2018 and $9.1 million last year.
Organizers say the significant economic hardships for many brought on by COVID-19 was a factor in postponing the ride.
“So many people don’t have the money to donate this year,” Harry said. “If you get 2,500 riders and half of them are not employed, it’s pretty hard to get people to pay into it, or to support you on the ride.” And riders, she adds, are also not able to rely on corporate donations as they have in the past.
For a disease which afflicts an estimated one half of all Canadians at some point in their lives, there are few among the rides not touched by cancer. Steve Wilson, a Hope resident, rode for the first time in 2018 with the Braniacs team. He told Hope Standard reporter Barry Stewart he’d seen “too much cancer first hand” in recent years including his wife Inge going through breast cancer, as well as close friends, aunts uncles and colleagues.
Harry is thinking of the double whammy people who have cancer are facing with COVID-19, some who have little time left with loved ones. “I’ve got some close friends who’ve been battling it for years,” she said. “I’ve got a couple of customers and two friends that have just gone through breast cancer and now they’re stuck at home, they can’t see their grandkids, they can’t do anything. If you have a low immune system, this virus is just crushing people.”
The ride weekend, August 29 to 30, won’t go by unnoticed as the cancer foundation is planning a celebration of some form in line with health directives from the province.
“Postponing the (ride) is a heartbreaking decision. Riders pour their hearts into training and fundraising in honour of loved ones and this community is a driving force behind many of the biggest breakthroughs in cancer made here in B.C.,” stated Sarah Roth, president and CEO of the BC Cancer Foundation. Some of those breakthroughs include research into 50 types of cancer by 250 researchers, research “on track to prevent up to 50 per cent of gynecological cancer,” genomic testing and enhanced care for 275,000 patients.
Without the money from the ride, the BC Cancer Foundation say they will face a “significant gap” in fundraising. The money that has already been raised by the 2,100 riders signed up this year will go to research at the BC Cancer Agency.
The presenting sponsor, Wheaton Precious Metals, will remain on board as well. The 2021 ride is set for August 28 and 29.