Early Saturday morning, friends and family sleep, entertained by summer weekend dreams. Not so for our rider who is southbound on the Don Valley Parkway. Birds have yet to sing their dawn chorus; sunrise has not yet spread its golden glow across the Toronto skyline. 5:00 a.m. registers in a glaring green flash on his car clock. Virtually alone on the road, alone in his car, faces of friends and family drift across his consciousness - Carol, John, Tony, Terry, Cornelia, Rollie, Brenton, Derek - only to blur and hauntingly evaporate. It is the looming vision of his two beloved grandfathers that causes his hands to tighten on the steering wheel, his jaw to set in determination and his resolve to lock in like the gears on his bike. Their presence is palpable. "Grampa? Grandad?" he whispers only to be answered by silence.
Pulling in to the CNE parking lot fractures his pensive solitude. The air is charged with the electrical buzz of excited voices. Like a swarming ant hill, thousands of riders, many sporting yellow shirts, prepare for their two day challenge and their appointment with pain and endurance. "Anyone searching for what is good in humanity," he muses, "need only witness this morning." This is the two hundred and twenty five kilometer long Toronto Ride to Conquer Cancer.
"Every minute someone in Ontario is diagnosed with cancer", an official announces over the din. Passion and perseverance ripple through the riders who have taken up the challenge for everyone even touched by cancer. Eighty year old riders mingle with cancer survivors; children riding in honour of lost parents mingle with corporate teams riding for their preferred charity; oncology staff riders mingle with cycling club members. To a rider, they are united in their desire to free the world of the scourge that is cancer.
Ready, set, go! The mass of humanity moves forward as a phalanx of yellow shirted warriors. Iron Man-trained and tested, our rider jockeys his way forward, settling into his rhythm near the front of the pack. Leg muscles pumping, head and shoulders down, wheels gliding over the surface, he and his bike, as if one, begin to eat up the distance.
In spite of the heat and humidity setting in for the day, spectators abandoning the comfort of air conditioned homes and cars, line the route displaying banners and cheering the riders on. "Our Mother is a breast cancer survivor." "We lost our Father to Cancer. Thank you for honouring his memory." "Thank you for your efforts." "Ride On!" Cheers of "bravo" resound. Out of the corner of his eye, he spots her - a fragile young girl with pasty complexion and hairless head. Despite the intensity of the heat, she is wrapped in a blanket and seated in a lawn chair, clapping and radiating an angelic smile. Heat induced sweat pouring into our rider's eyes now mingles with salty tears. He cries for the blessing of his healthy children and for his physical ability to ride today. He cries in gratitude for the cheering section along the way. He cries for family and friends taken by the disease. He cries for lost time with his grandfathers. He cries for the bravery and beauty of that young girl. And he cries in frustration that this monster disease still stalks the earth randomly choosing victims and devastating families.
Pain invades his neck and grows in severity as it radiates into his shoulders. His leg muscles burn with an excruciating heat. Now is the critical moment when he must reach into himself to find his resolve and toughness. His trained mind will not allow him to hurt; it demands that he realize his pain is temporary and requires that he connect it to a positive affirmation. "This is nothing compared to the pain of diagnosis and the pain of battling cancer", he reasons with himself. Each subsequent and agonizing kilometer is dedicated to those fighting the battle and to those who have triumphed - Wendy, Meredith, Jackie, Linda, Dick, the courageous little girl at the end of her driveway......
Ride complete, he catches a moment to stand alone and reflect. And then he feels it - the rustle of air like a caress on his cheek and the feather weight of two light touches on his shoulders. He senses their presence. "Grampa? Grandad?" he whispers.
"Well done, son. Well done!"
This blog is dedicated to our son, Matthew, and his team of riders, who over the past seven years, through thunderstorms, torrential rains and blistering heat, have raised over $250,000 for the Toronto Ride to Conquer Cancer. They ride again this Saturday. TRTCC has chosen you to wear their Ambassador's shirt, Hon! You have earned it; wear it with honour. You are our hero. May your efforts ultimately help us realize an end to this deadly disease.