Monday, August 22, 2011

Tour for Kids Ontario - inspired & tired

Friends, family - please read this:

I have spent 12 years in endurance sport. I have some very satisfying sporting moments in my "memory chest" that, upon reflection, I think are pretty good. Hawaii Ironman; Boston Marathon; podiums & awards. All of those are meaningless.

This past weekend I participated in the 8th annual Tour for Kids Ontario, a four day cycling odyssey around the Kawartha's in support of 3 Kid cancer camps:
  • Camp Trillium which offers and promotes recreational experiences to bring children with cancer and their families together through an environment that normalizes relationships and experiences, helping families in healing and life quality.
  • Camp Quality which provides week long camp experiences as well as year round support for kids with cancer and their families to come together and be kids.
  • Camp Oochigeas which offers year round programs for children affected by cancer at sites in Muskoka, SickKids Hospital, and Downtown Toronto camp location.
I've come home a slightly different person.

I don't have kids. In fact, I can't have kids. But those kids around in my life; nephews and nieces, cousins and friends families, teach me everything about life with their pure zest for life and adventure. These are life lessons that at times, us as adults, forget. Work, money, stress, work some more to pay for this or that...we just keep moving but is where we are moving to or from more or less centered than a kids passion and zest for life? Often, if not always,
I would submit that answer is no.

Because I think these lessons are important, I want to do my best to write down what The Tour for Kids is all about through the experiences I gained there. I want to guarantee you however, I cannot do the past 4 days justice in written word. You must experience it, truly, it deserves the rich tradition adjective cyclists love to use: EPIC.

First, what was I doing? 4 days/800kms on a bike with like minded people.
Second, what to expect? Grass roots (but quite professional) organized cycling odyssey over tough terrain in Ontario's Kawartha and Haliburton regions.

Each morning we would gather, some 500 of us, and share in some animated and fun stretches and stories. Then we pay tribute to kids with cancer through a story told by a kid cancer survivor. We then set off, in groups of 20 or so riders set up by distances of 200, 160, or 100KM routes. Over the day we would have rest stops with stocked fruits, sandwiches, drinks and incredibly gracious hosts dressed in costume. We would meander through the marked course with my front group averaging 35-37K/hr with the occasional attacks and counter attacks to add spice to our long hauls. We would arrive to base camp tired, sore, elated, and proud to share stories of shoulda, coulda, woulda's across this or that climb; that descent or this attack! We would share these stories over swims in the Trent river and a few Mill St. Brewery's finest lagers. Dinner would be served with a mixed array of fabulous foods hot and cold while the organizing team introduce one of the supported camps per night to tell their history and what it is they do for pediatric cancer patients.

Through it all we would make friends for life.

We listen intently, at times laughing and others fighting tears. Not all the stories end with "remission" or "beat cancer" because some stories inevitably end in "....(s)he left us..." We take the bad with the good. We stand up and applaud. We hug and embrace not just physically the friends around us, but emotionally the bond we are creating with each other and the direct impact we can and are creating in these kids lives.

And sometimes in life you listen and learn more about yourself than you realize. I learned this at Tour for Kids:
  • one person makes a direct difference to kids with cancer.
  • never under estimate the power of the bike
  • their is good all around us, go out and seek it
  • laughter and tears co-exist in harmony
And I reminded myself again, I personally get more out of endurance sport when I am connected with others and fighting for a cause. What separates Tour for Kids is that, while you are participating you are learning exactly where your money is going; you are learning its impact from the people who receive it; you see it live in person by meeting kids who have received funds and by staying at Camp Ooch!

And you know you can do more always.

On day 2 in the evening Camp Quality came to speak and a cancer survivor Joleen (forgive me if I don't spell that correctly please!) spoke. Like her peers, she brought the house down with her tales of what camp means to her. We spoke afterwards and met her mom. both are stunning and vibrant and full of life, proof positive this cause works. Ends up, they are from Atikokan and my sister, a local GP Dr. in Atikokan has treated Joleen. Doug, my big sister's husband taught Joleen at school; he's a teacher. Life comes full circle sometimes. As I stood there stunned, a little taken back with emotions I realized I was standing taller, firm in my belief this program is working, and proud in the movement we are building. I also realized I was standing tall because of the immense pride that big sis and her husband gave me by making a difference to the very people I was riding for. Life at times is a very, very small place.

Here are some facts about Tour for Kids:
  • 100% of all donations go directly to these camps. Admin fees to run the Tour are paid for by our registration fees and sponsor dollars.
  • 50-60% of operating budgets for these camps are directly paid for by the donations provided by Tour for Kids.
  • In 2010 Coast to Coast Against Cancer Foundation that runs Tour for Kids gave away $4.7MM
  • Tour for Kids in past 7 years leading into 2011 have raised $5.6MM
  • in 2011, the Ontario ride sold out with some 55o riders participating and expanded it's current offerings in Alberta and Ontario, to the East Coast Cabot trail ride.
I ask you take a deep look into The Tour for Kids and ask what you can do to maybe throw some support its way. You can email me from this blog and we can get connected and create zest and adventure for kids with cancer when the disease, at times, takes that away.

Thanks for reading & ride safe.


  1. lovely post - a friend was on the Tour too - as someone with way too much cancer in my family I am very grateful to you for all that you all do :)

  2. Rhys.. Next time I will definitely look you up on the T4K.. It was my 6th...

    As you said we lose too many incredible kids but the work the cyclists do is making a difference. On Wednesday night I was with a T4K cyclist who completed his second bone marrow transplant several months ago at Sick Kids. He can tell you all about the incredible difference you and the other riders are making as he sees first hand the results of the efforts the riders and their sponsors make...

    and yes some of the kids have left us but all we can do is keep on riding and telling their stories so that some year there won't be any more dedications that are "in memory of" and only talks about "in honor of"

    We are making a difference and thank you for sharing your message..

    David Wilson