RIDE to Conquer Cancer 

By: Dr. Nancy Mingo, #TRP Student | June 30, 2019

It was quite light at 5:30 in the morning, but the shadows were still long. It was a stunning June day when I swung my leg over the bike and pedaled around the corner. This was the perfect spring weather we had all been anticipating through the damp and cold months earlier. No-one was around to break the silence and I could ride down the middle of the empty street. What a contrast to just a week ago when I was in a pack of almost five thousand cyclists waiting for the start of the Ride to Conquer Cancer. This charity fund-raising event takes place every year over a weekend and is a 220km ride from Toronto to Hamilton (103km) and then Hamilton to Niagara Falls (117km) the following day. It was a glorious day then as well, warm but not too warm, but I could hardly enjoy it. I was wracked with doubts: will I fall over or, worse, fall over onto another cyclist? Would I just give up at some point and take the bus home, too ashamed to text my teammates until later?

I was the oldest member of our team of eight from the Transitional Research Program, Faculty of Medicine, University of Toronto. My younger teammates had been tremendously supportive, beginning back when we first met in September to form the team: TRP Disruptors. They shared all their hard-won insights and training pearls from the last year in the long run up to the event. Even with seasoned members of the team telling me “you can do this; you can do the training, and the fundraising and the team is with you every step of the way”, signing up for the Ride to Conquer Cancer was still daunting. In the end, it started as all projects do: with a plan.

This experience had much in common with the translational research process we are learning about in our program: we had to break down the project into the discovery of a need (underfunding of cancer care and research), the selection of a problem based on that need (how to raise funds), and generate alternative ways of looking at the situation (novel solutions to attempt to raise the money needed). We used our communication skills in writing soliciting emails and pitching the project to possible donors. The team met biweekly then weekly as the time to the ride drew closer, and we were breaking down the project into manageable tasks and ultimately selecting the most successful fund-raising strategies.

Preparing for the ride, Christina, Naomi, and Paige worked extremely hard organizing the fundraising bake sales. Paige took me on my first long training ride to Burlington, and her mom fed us at the end of the exhausting trip. Craig, having completed the event a few times, was incredibly encouraging and really sent the message, “You can do this ride, you’ve got this”. But could I do the ride? Road cycling is not the same as a spin class, and I had never been on a bike for that long. Was there any point in buying special equipment if I wasn’t even going to finish? Would it all end in (my) tears? In the end, Craig was right: with the proper planning, we all could do this, and we did!

Entering the weekend, I felt a part of all the riders in this together. Our eye-catching shirts (thanks, Kaleigh!) meant we could spot the other members of our team as we streamed along through the crowds. At every stop light, we could hear dozens of clicks of fellow cyclists disengaging from the pedal clips. The chorus of “Rolling” and “Clear” heralded the new green light and we were off again. It was moving to see all the yellow flags on the bikes of cancer survivors who were now completing the ride. More moving for me was the displays, on bike and shirts, of the stories of those who did not make it. Sometimes all that was shown were the years for the dates of birth and death; it was astonishing how brief these lives had been. I had expected to find the experience of the ride moving and had expected to find the challenge fulfilling but had not expected to find the ride so enjoyable. We really had a blast! Rich, Derek, and Shanna greeted us with cheers and refreshments in red solo cups when the last of our team finally made it to the end each day. It was truly a wonderful and touching event and I am so grateful to the team for including me.

From the gorgeous countryside and beautiful woodlands to the grand finale at Niagara Falls, the scenery was spectacular. The comradery and good spirits from all the other cyclists, volunteers, and people cheering were infectious. We really felt that we were doing something worthwhile and it was: the ride has raised over $19 million so far and we are still receiving donations. There is still time to donate as the donation page is open until August. If you are able to and wish to support this noble cause you can do so on our website. No donation is small and no effort is unimportant.