The West Coast is always excited to celebrate the annual arrival of the Cops for Cancer Tour De Rock riders, but the cheers are always a little louder when a local is on the team.
Gaylene Thorogood and her 16 Tour de Rock teammates kicked off their 1,100 kilometre cross-Island bike ride on Saturday and are geared up to spend the next two weeks raising funds and awareness for paediatric cancer research and Camp Goodtimes, a camp for children and families battling cancer.
The annual bike ride has raised over $21 million since it was first launched in 1998, according to Tour de Rock’s website.
This year’s team will arrive in Ucluelet on Oct. 1 and join the community’s annual head-shaving festivities before heading over to Tofino for the Tofino Legion’s annual Cops for Cancer breakfast event on Oct. 2.
Prior to clipping into her pedals and setting off on her life-changing fundraising adventure, Thorogood told the Westerly News she was both “excited and nervous” about the road ahead.
“It’s going to be tough,” she said. “It’s not going to be easy. We’ve got some mountains to climb.”
Thorogood had no experience on a road bike when she applied for a spot on the team last spring though she did have experience enjoying the West Coast’s logging roads on her mountain bike. She said learning to ride while clipped into her new road bike’s pedals was a challenge that led to several spills.
“When you’re riding a road bike, you’re clipped into it and that was all brand new and I had to learn that pretty fast,” she said. “I fell a few times and I’ve got a few bruises but you quickly learn and I think all my teammates have done that. We’ve fallen at least once or twice and now we know, when you slow down, unclip before you come to a complete stop.”
She added that picking each other up when they fall, both on the pavement and in spirit, is a key contributor to the team’s comradery as lifelong relationships begin to blossom.
“We will be lifelong friends. We know it. You create a bond training this long and what we’re going to go through in the next two weeks, being teammates and roommates and so close to each other,” she said.
“We can always talk about police work and how our days have been or some of the files we’ve worked on and things like that. But, once you start getting into the nitty gritty of training and you’ve got an ache or a pain or you’ve got a mechanical problem or something else, that’s when you really start to gel a little bit more and you find out that everybody wants to help and everybody is there to support you.
“Especially if you’re having a bad day or if you can’t make it up a hill, your teammate behind you, beside you and ahead of you is really encouraging you to push through and get through, which is phenomenal. That’s when you start seeing the team gelling and it feels really good.”
Thorogood has logged over 3,000 kilometres of training in the past six months to get ready for the Tour de Rock experience including group rides in other communities and solo journeys on the West Coast.
“TOF Cycle has looked after all the maintenance on my bike, tune ups and replaced parts as needed,” she said. “If it wasn’t for Marc at TOF Cycle, I wouldn’t have the high performing bike I have.”
She said the support she’s received from people who recognize her Cops for Cancer jersey has been uplifting.
“I love it. It’s uplifting when you get a honk or a wave. It feels so good to know there’s people out there supporting the effort that we’re putting into this. It really uplifts my spirits and gives me that extra energy to keep going. It’s amazing,” she said.
“It’s an incredible feeling. Especially if you’re grinding through something or you’ve just conquered a hill and you’re a little bit out of breathe and then, all of a sudden, somebody waves at you and you’re like, ‘Yes. This is why I’m doing this. Let’s keep going.’”
Each team member must raise at least $5,000 to qualify for the ride and Thorogood was confident she could raise around $10,000 but was blown away to see the West Coast support her to the tune of around $25,000.
“I was really surprised at how quickly the fundraising went and how generous people were,” she said.
“It has just been amazing. People when I see them and when I talk to them, or when they comment on my Facebook page, it’s so uplifting…The communities have been phenomenal.”
She cited the Flush Out Cancer campaign that saw elaborately decorated toilets circling through local lawns and businesses as a key source of her fundraising’s flow.
“I’ve had a lot of response. People think it’s a great idea,” she said. “It has worked out so well and people love it and want to donate because it’s so different than anything they’ve ever had here.”
She cited one powerfully moving donation she received when she arrived to collect a toilet from the home of a family that had a personal history with cancer.
“I gave them a hug and left and when I opened up the envelope the amount was just short of $1,000,” she said. “Cancer has touched them and they want to give back. To me, that’s the fundraising part that means so much to me; when you hear the stories.”
She said the local support she’s received will lead to an emotional ride into town this weekend.
“I’m a little overwhelmed by that. It does make me weepy sometimes and cry in a good way because people really care,” she said. “It’s going to be emotional when I come to both towns for sure. Even talking about it makes me watery-eyed because the love and the support I’m getting has been amazing…I can’t wait to arrive into town and see everybody’s faces. That’s going to be very overwhelming.”
During an interview with the Westerly News in March, Thorogood spoke to joining the Tour de Rock team and wanting to help the fight against cancer though the disease had never touched her personally. That changed drastically when her mother Camilla was diagnosed in July and Thorogood spoke candidly about her mother’s battle and assured Camilla’s locally loved sense of humour has not faltered.
“Shortly after I was announced as a team rider, we found out she had cancer. We just weren’t sure how bad it was. In July we found out it was Stage 3 lung cancer and it kind of floored us. ‘How does this happen? She doesn’t look sick’…The next thing you know you’re starting radiation and you’re going to start chemo,” she said.
“We were a little bit overwhelmed and overcome but I found riding made me stronger. I wanted to ride more. It made me want to do better and be better…At the same time, she wanted me to keep going and she’s cheering for me. The ride is therapeutic for me and I also think it’s a little bit therapeutic for her too because she’s got something to focus on as well.”
Camilla served as the top fundraising campaigner for Tofino’s past Tour de Rock Rider Cpl. Andrew Waddell in 2013 and has been a key cog in her daughter’s wheel of fundraising success this year.
“She’s a huge fan and supporter of Cops for Cancer and has been for years and now I’m riding for my mom too. There’s no doubt about it. I’m riding for kids’ cancer research but I’m also riding for my mom,” Thorogood said.
“Her spirits are still really high and she’s doing well. She’s amazingly strong. She’s awesome. She’s my mentor…We get strength from each other.”
She said Camilla’s good humour and energetic fundraising prowess were on full display at a recent Funky Dancer to Kick Cancer event in Ucluelet.
She added her husband Kevin and her three adult children have been consistent sources of support.
“I can’t thank my family enough. They’ve been so supportive,” she said. “Kevin has been 100 per cent behind me. He’s driven me out to my rides. He gets up early in the morning to make me breakfast. He’s massaged my legs when I’ve come home from my rides. There’s no way I could have done this without him.”