Fred and Elaine Vyse

Fred and Elaine Vyse

‘Last year I had two legs’

Fred Vyse tells his story at the Tour de Rock/Cops for Cancer beer and burger night in Parksville

His bike-riding days may be behind him, and his childhood is certainly well in the rear-view mirror. But Parksville’s Fred Vyse still had plenty of incentive to step up on behalf of sick children at last week’s Cops for Cancer burger and beer fundraiser event at Quality Inn Bayside.

In the midst of cheque donations announced last Thursday during the annual stop by the Tour de Rock riders, Vyse, his right pant leg pinned above a missing knee and leaning on a walker, shuffled slowly to the podium accompanied by his wife, Elaine.

“Last year I had two legs,” Vyse said as the 21-member tour team stood in a line behind him. “But, unfortunately, last December I had to remove my leg. I’ve had cancer twice; I think I’ve beaten it this time. At least I hope so, because I intend to come back next year.”

As a full house of donors and supporters in the Quality Inn lounge applauded and cheered, Elaine stepped up beside her husband.

“We’d like to give you $2,000,” she said, turning the applause to surprised gasps. “Because no kid should go through any of this.”

The donation was part of nearly $30,000 raised in the event, sponsored by the Rotary Club of Parksville and Quality Inn Bayside. It took place near the midpoint of the 18th annual Tour de Rock, which began in Port Alice on Sept. 20 and wraps up tomorrow in Victoria’s Spirit Square.

It was the fifth year the Rotary Club hosted the burger night fundraiser, which included a silent auction, raffle and head shaves by four residents — including two cancer survivors. Rotarian Bob Bourgeault, who co-founded the event, served as master of ceremonies.

“The (riders) were already staying at Quality Inn Bayside anyway,” said Bourgeault. “I don’t know how I came up with the idea, but we came on board to do the burger and beer night, and it’s become one of the riders’ favourite events. It’s casual; they don’t have to dress up.”

For their head shaves, perennial participant Joan Lemoine raised $4,305 and Shawne Munro collected $1,400. Darlene Thompson, a 40-year employee at Coastal Community Credit Union who beat a 2008 cancer diagnosis, participated for the first time and raised $1,713 in an eight-day stretch at work. And Steve Thistle, who is undergoing skin cancer treatment, teamed with his wife to raise $5,030. The couple then pulled out a guitar and a dulcimer and led a sing-along of a ditty Steve wrote for the event, as the head shaves commenced.

“You know how they have lemonade stands for kids?” Ruth Thistle asked the audience. “(Steve) did that on our street, with an open case, and sang for kids.”

Teen Olivia Davis, the darling of last year’s event when she appeared bald and weakened by treatment for acute lymphoblastic leukemia, returned with a head of hair and a positive outlook to present what essentially turned into the night’s keynote address.

“Too many kids have cancer,” said Davis, who is scheduled to complete her treatment next April. “It’s not fair. It’s not right. We need to spread awareness. We need better treatments that are not toxic to our bodies. And we need a cure.”

Money raised at Thursday’s burger and beer night — and at events throughout the two-week, 1,100-kilometre tour — goes to pediatric cancer research and to send young cancer victims to Camp Goodtimes.

“Camp Goodtimes gives kids and their families a chance to be supported,” said Davis. “To expereince the healing powers of nature and to be free from cancer and its treatments. All these kids deserve a chance to marvel at the night sky of a trillion stars.”

The riders are selected from law enforcement and military forces across Vancouver Island, along with a pair of media riders. They go through seven months of training, but riders said no training can replicate the actual tour.

“Four or five days in, this is an adventure,” said Nick Mandryk of the Saanich Police. “Training for seven months prepared us physically, but it didn’t prepare us for the emotional aspect of it.”

Beginning with a seafood dinner and auction at the Port Alice Legion Hall on the eve of the ride’s start, the team and its support crew has been fed and feted at communities the length of the Island. These communities have produced inspirational stories and an outpouring of support.

In the hamlet of Woss, between Port McNeill and Campbell River, the school’s entire student body — seven strong — came out to meet the riders and donate $750 they’d raised. The second day’s ride, from Port McNeill to Sayward, was the longest on the tour at 140 kilometres, but ended with a lift that washed away the fatigue of the day.

“The last 10 kilometres were the longest

10 kilometres of my life,” said rider Nick Brame of Westshore RCMP. “But as we turned down the road to Sayward, we started seeing riders’ names on the telephone poles. About 30 kids that go to school there had made posters for everyone on the team. That was so uplifting; it was just the last little thing you needed to pull you to the finish.”