Written by: Paige Gilbank
One. Two. One. Two.
This was the mantra that was running through my head at every uphill turn or gust of wind adding resistance to my ride.
My gaze was glued to the two feet of road immediately ahead of me. I focused on the turn of my bike wheels, determined to ignore the lactic acid building up in my leg muscles.
And then a cyclist would pass on my left, with a yellow flag shooting straight into the air from their back wheel, and I was reminded why I was doing this ride. I was reminded why I wasn’t going to stop.
The Ride to Conquer Cancer was the most challenging and worthwhile weekend of my life. The two-day, 220km bike ride from Toronto to Niagara falls raised 18.3 million dollars for the Princess Margaret Cancer Centre this year. If you asked me what I would be doing this summer when I began my graduate studies in University of Toronto’s Translational Research Program (TRP), I would not have answered with “a cycling challenge to raise money for cancer research”. I entered this program wanting to learn how to impact patients without research results getting lost along the road to application. I thought we’d learn to navigate the translational research landscape, I didn’t realize we’d do so on a bike.
On Saturday morning, at 8:00am, 4,555 cyclists were crowded around the start line ready to begin this journey. Riders from all over united with the common goal to conquer cancer in this lifetime. Researchers, clinicians, professionals, students, and cancer survivors all became cyclers riding for a cure. Over two days, we tackled the rolling Halton Hills, the steady incline of the escarpment and the windy flats of Welland, and coasted toward that long-awaited finish line along the Niagara river. There are cancer survivors and their families sitting beside the route, cheering you on. There are cancer survivors riding along with you, with their yellow flags as identifiers, powering through.
This was the second year that the TRP Disruptors, a team of TRP faculty, students and friends, participated in the Ride to Conquer Cancer. This year we grew to 11 team members, including several new first year students, including myself. Leading up to the ride, the team supported one another in our training, preparation and fundraising efforts. Many of us had never done a cycling ride before, we didn’t know what gear we needed or how to start training while we were still treading through snowy streets. But with Ride-veterans providing tips and tricks, and coordinating team training sessions, we were ready for the ride weekend.
We started the race with one rule: no one rides alone.
Everyone had a buddy, or several, nearby at any given point. At every rest stop, teammates were there to cheer you on, to congratulate you on how far you’ve come, and to remind you that you can do this. The team pushed through hurdles: physical aches and mental fatigue, flat tires and broken gears. We hit walls and we climbed them, together. And on Sunday afternoon, at 4:45pm, we crossed the finish line the way we started, together.
We’ve conquered the ride, but our fundraising is ongoing. This year we’ve raised $24,789 so far. Combined with last year’s donations, TRP faculty and students have raised over $51,500 for cancer research. To help us reach this year’s goal of $27,500, click on a teammate still working toward their goal using this link.