A Personal Story by Julie Peters
As part of the B-Strong Cycle Team a couple of years ago, I was about to embark on what was likely the most difficult physical test I had put my body through in a very long time. I was about to ride a bike 216 km from Toronto to Niagara Falls over two days. I was excited, and scared! I was part of the B-Strong Cycle Team for the first time. I had a great bike and all the proper gear. I looked every bit the part of experienced cyclist but appearances can be deceiving. The fact of the matter was I had only ridden my bike about 20 km before the Ride Weekend and I had just learned how to clip in and out of my pedals. This was a steep learning curve but I was going to do this.
I was surrounded by thousands of cyclists ready to take on the weekend. We had all put our baggage on trucks that would meet us in Hamilton and we had found our team members. The opening ceremonies were inspiring and emotional. I learned that if I saw a rider with a gold flag attached to their bike, they were either battling cancer in the present or was a cancer survivor. Having a good look around, I could not believe how many flags I saw. Other people had names and pictures of people they knew and loved on their shirts, showing people the images of the true heroes that battled and fought against the brutal disease. Approximately 5000 people were cycling and it was truly amazing.
It took me a while to get comfortable riding. There were so many people and I was afraid I would cause an accident with my lack of experience but the members of my team gave me confidence and tips as we rode and I gradually got more comfortable. Everything was going well, the weather was great, people seemed genuinely happy to be there. There are several pit stops along the way with everything from washrooms to first aid to food and drinks for replenishment and these stops are on the properties of people along the way. Another amazing way to support the cause. It was a lot of city street riding the first day which was intimidating but the hardest part of the first day was the escarpment in Hamilton. For an inexperienced rider, this was by far the most difficult part of the day. Not only was the way up crowded with cyclists, but there was traffic as well. In my mind it was the longest hill ever but I did it and to say I was proud is an understatement. The rest of the ride to camp I was happy and enjoying the fact that I conquered would turned out to be the hardest physical challenge of the weekend.
The camp the organizers set up was something to see. Thousands of blue tents, side by side for all the cyclists along with food tents and shelters, first aid, massage therapy and chiropractic care, shower trucks and the bicycle parking lot with everyone’s bike. This is home for the night and there are speeches and celebrations as well as entertainment and I do believe a tent had the Stanley Cup final on as well! Most people made an early night of it and I was no exception. It was a long day and another long day to come.
We were up and out at the earliest we were allowed and that was early enough to witness a beautiful morning. Day two was a little more relaxing for me. I didn’t try to keep up to the more experienced riders on the team. Instead, I enjoyed my day. We were cycling through some of the most gorgeous country side and I wanted to take it all in. We cycled past orchards, and vineyards and through the cutest towns. All along the way, the riders supported each other and people were standing outside their homes cheering for riders. For me, day two also became emotionally and mentally challenging. Even though I was enjoying the ride and taking it all in, the truth of the matter is my body was sore, and I was tired from not having the best sleep in the tent. I was spending a lot of time fighting mentally with myself. More than once, I was questioning why I did this, and then I would look around and see a rider with a gold flag. It was at those points of questioning my mental toughness, that I realized that if people can do this while they are fighting cancer or recovering from cancer treatment, I, as a healthy, fit person, can certainly keep riding my bike. It gave me more energy and I kept pushing.
After about four hours of riding, I realized I am way closer to the finish line then I thought. Gradually, the beautiful country and rural roads, were giving way to busier streets with more traffic. One left turn and I saw downtown Niagara Falls! I thought to myself, this is it and then we turned right. So close, yet so far! It was about another 30 minutes before the finish was getting closer. I crossed the finish line, to cheers from the crowd and huge sense of pride. I was completely overwhelmed with emotion and the tears were flowing. I had just completed two days, and 216 km for cancer research. I thought about the people I know that had battled cancer, those who had survived and those who hadn’t. All the pain in my body was worth it. It was then, that I found my dad and my daughters who had come to pick me up. Seeing the pride in their eyes, knowing that I had accomplished this was monumental.
I have done the Ride to Conquer Cancer 2 times and both times I finished with an enormous sense of pride, not only in myself but also in the thousands of people who rode the weekend. The physical, emotional and mental challenges made me a stronger person, and to this day, I find myself reflecting on the lessons learned on those days. Since I have done the ride, I have lost more people to cancer, and I have known more who have battled and won. Next year is the 10th anniversary for the B-Strong cycle team and with any luck, I will ride again!