By Geoff Koehler, Public Affairs Associate

Geoff imageIt's the summer of 2010 and I'm an intern at PMHF. I'm asked to take photos at the Ride to Conquer Cancer. As I look out onto the crowd at the CNE, I'm struck by the look of purpose on the face of every single Rider. 

I register that same day for the 2011 Ride and buy a new road bike the following weekend. Within 10 days I convince two friends to join me and by the end of the summer I add three more to my team. 

I name my bike Norma after my grandmother who died of cancer when I was 18.

 

***

Flash forward to June 11, 2011. It's time to face the 200km of pavement between the CNE and Niagara Falls.

I could have trained more; I'm reminded of that fact at every hill. The hills feel more like mountains and the actual "mountain" up to Hamilton feels more like Everest. 

I was a two-sport athlete in university and I'm used to "hitting the wall," but climbing that hill at a blistering 5km/hr I don't just feel like I've hit the wall, but that I've been fired at it from some sort of cannon. 

I remind myself that it's not a race (which is good, because I'm not going to "win") and that I'm riding for my grandma, not the glory.

The Ride is dotted with cheering sections—a single child waving a pool noodle or entire communities with signs and bells. Every time I pass one of these groups I find a new gear. 

Geoff holding up a bike imageContinuing up the hill (yes, I'm still climbing), I know the largest cheering section is waiting at camp in a few minutes and it wills me up the hill. Finally, I've finished the mountain in Hamilton and it's smooth sailing by the 95km mark. Day One is almost complete. 

Well, it's supposed to be smooth sailing, but Norma's having none of that. With less than five clicks to go, she breaks. My derailleur, the part of my bike that lets me change gears and keeps the chain tight, snaps off, which sets off a chain reaction that breaks a spoke and delivers irreconcilable damage to my rear wheel.

Rather than feel the thrill of the wind whistling by me as I accelerate past the camp's cheering section, Norma and I walk side-by-side across the finish. But I don't have time to be disappointed because I'm still greeted at camp by raucous Riders and bellowing bystanders who are just happy that I'm here.

At camp there are three bike suppliers and it takes all three groups to bring Norma back to life. By the time I fall into my tent at 9pm, I'm laughing to myself that Norma's a 40% new woman. 

Day Two is a much easier ride (two straight wheels helps). Approaching Niagara Falls, I slow for my teammates and the seven of us (we'd made a new friend that day who asked if he could be an honourary member) cross the line amid an outpouring of support and tears.

***

I'm a Public Affairs Associate here at UHN. I spend my days organizing events, coordinating media, working on corporate projects and writing. As part of my job, I have the pleasure of meeting many of the amazing staff across our organization—the nurses, physicians, researchers, support staff—and I have a deep appreciation for all that they do every day.

I don't always see the direct effect of a press release on donor dollars. And no UHNews piece I've written has ever saved a life—at least none that I'm aware of.

But I can certainly see the impact that $17.5 million will have on cancer research and patient outcomes. 

And all of this was even more special to me that I was able to finish with "Norma" and cross the line with five of my best friends.

*Read more about this year's Ride and how you can get involved for next year.


Geoff lifts up two bike image Geoff and other riders image

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