About this time a year ago, my friend Nicole called me after a run bubbling with excitement. She had passed by the Princes Gates at the CNE and watched the Ride to Conquer Cancer participants stream out onto the road to start their 200km journey from Toronto to Niagara. She was so moved by the sight that she decided on the spot that she (and subsequently I) should both do the ride in 2010.
Fast forward 12 months later, and I've just completed the ride of my life. It didn't take much convincing to get me to do it - I've had more of my fair share of run ins with cancer in my life and have watched more friends and family than I care to think about go through various battles - some have won, and some have lost. So I embarked on a training and fund-raising mission - and was able to exceed my expectations by raising over $4000 for The Campbell Family Institute at The Princess Margaret, one of the top 5 cancer research centres in the world. Thanks to all those who supported me. In total the Ride raised over $16.1 million across Canada. THAT'S RIGHT!
The morning of the Ride arrived - and despite Mother Nature's threatening forecast, we were able to make it to Hamilton with little to no rain. The start of the race was quite phenomenal - looking around at the over 4000 riders assembled at the start line, it was hard to miss the little yellow flags the were attached to some of the bikes. The flags represented people who were riding that were either cancer survivors, or were currently fighting cancer. Extraordinarily moving. As we poured out of the CNE and onto the Lakeshore, people cheering, bikers ringing their bells - you could really feel the power of this group of people who were intent on making a difference.
Day one went by quickly - rest stops were flush with food, drink, mechanics, medical aid and lots of encouragement. The people who came out to cheer us on the side of the road kept us energized us through the day. As we wound through a neighbourhood in Mississauga, a man stood at the end of his driveway with a case of water, holding out bottles for anyone who needed one. Another couple followed us through different race points with a vuvuzela, a tambourine and a big sign that cheering everyone on. Small children with homemade signs - or the farmer leaning against his tractor on the rural roads clapping as we went past - it was all wonderful and motivating. Thanks to all the cheerleaders.
Nicole's friends met us twice on the route, tears streaming down the face of one of her friends as we road past. It was the cheering that kept me motivated - but also it was seeing the yellow flags bob and weave up the road ahead of me and talking to the 70 year old man who was riding for his daughter that passed away last year from a long battle with cancer. Everyone had a story and a reason for being there - and it was the stories that inspired me and kept me going even when the riding got tough.
Day one ended with the longest possible hill up into Hamilton, followed by dinner and a movie out with our support crew (thanks Rich and Brad!). Day two was equally inspiring - except for the part where I thought we had only less than 20km to go and a chipper little fit 20 year old told me that we actually had 27 km to go because day two was 114 km in total. It was a moment of pain, but luckily for me, my ability to eat took over and I consumed an extra brownie with the rationale that I needed "energy".
Arriving in Niagara Falls was exhilarating - people were cheering, crying and celebrating everyone's accomplishment. And for those who are wondering - the Ride was made up of all types - road/mountain bikes, young/old/fit/not so fit people. If you are thinking "wow, that's great Lara, but I could never do that" - what I can tell you is that you CAN. And while you're doing it, you'll be thinking "this is nothing compared to the battle that people face with cancer". And when your bum hurts after riding for 5 hours you'll think "this is nothing compared to the pain that someone fighting for their life faces everyday".
And when you finish you'll think "wow - I just made a difference, maybe just a small one, but I'm proud, so proud...of me." And that's pretty great too.