Sunny Matzanke and her children Mia and Evan cherish the gift they received from Parksville Volunteer Fire Department at the funeral service for Mike Matzanke. The senior firefighter for the department lost his battle to cancer on May 20.

THURSDAY SPOTLIGHT: Women cycling to raise money for cancer research, honour their late boss

Iris Visual Group’s late manager Mike Matzanke’s eyes were donated for research

Two unlikely long-distance cyclists will be heading to Banff next week to ride their bikes in honour of Mike Matzanke and raise funds to battle cancer.

When Barb Burke and Tammy Baker signed up for The Iris Challenge and Memorial Ride they knew they would be stepping out of their comfort zone.

The two didn’t even own bikes when they registered to ride 60 km through Lake Louise and the Rocky Mountains in Banff Alberta on July 18.

Burke, who is 65 years old, is an avid horseback rider, but hadn’t been on a bike since she was a teenager.

Baker admitted she is not an elite athlete and long distance cycling wasn’t part of her daily activity until recently.

Despite their lack of road riding experience they decided to do it for their former work colleague who recently died from colon cancer.

At just 47 years old, Matzanke lost a short battle with cancer on May 20 and his passing left a huge void in the community.

He had been the manager at the IRIS Visual Group in Parksville for nine years and spent eight years as a volunteer firefighter with the Parksville Fire Department.

He was a great athlete who coached soccer and baseball, and was an avid hockey player and loved to run marathons.

While the women are still mourning the loss of their colleague, they are also remembering the good times they had with their boss and know in their hearts that he would get a kick out of what they are up to.

“If Mike was here he would be laughing at the idea of us buying bikes to do a 60 km,” said Baker. “He was the athletic one and would tease us about any ideas we had about athletic pursuits. That would be his way of challenging us and we are up to the challenge.”

She and Burke — along with Steffen Berndt an IRIS regional manager from Courtenay and Nigel Rakete their ICS courier who they consider part of the IRIS family — will be leaving for Banff on Thursday.

The gals have logged hundreds of kilometres cycling all over Vancouver Island in preparation for their bold riding journey.

Baker said she and Burke have peddled up to 53 kilometres in one stretch so they are as ready as they will ever be.

During the ride, there will be a memorial for former IRIS president and founder Dr. Francis Jean, who suffered a fatal heart attack  while cycling the in the Columbia Ice Fields for the 2014 IRIS Challenge.

Baker said they will likely have a memorial for Matzanke as well.

She said they will not only be riding to conquer cancer but will ride in Matzanke’s memory and will be thinking of his wife Sunny and his children Evan and Mia who suffered such a deep loss.

An expression of how much Matzanke was cared for came at his service on May 26 at Knox United Church in Parksville.

Not only was there a firefighters honour guard for Matzanke, there was also a parade of fire engines along Humphrey Road all the way to the Anglican Parish of St. Anne and St. Edmund.

Firefighters from several fire departments in District 69 were posted at the church and mourners stood by while family members took turns burying Matzanke’s ashes in the historic church yard cemetery.

Afterwards, the Parksville Fire Department presented the helmet that Matzanke wore when he was part of their crew to Sunny, Evan and Mia.

Sunny said the fire department was incredible and stepped up in a big way when her husband became ill and to this day she said they continue to be amazing.

“We live in the best town. The generosity, compassion and love from everyone have been overwhelming. They were in the trenches with us on a daily basis,” she admitted.

She said the honour guard at the service was overwhelming and appreciated by all who knew the kind of man her husband was.

“What a legacy for the kids to have that memory and see what kind of an impact their daddy had. That was the biggest gift Mike could have left for them. They will want to live to make him proud.”

When Matzanke passed away the only organs viable in his body were his eyes and Sunny said she made the decision to donate them because it was what he would have wanted.

“In the field he was in he strived to improve people’s quality of life and the biggest irony is at the end we couldn’t do anything to help his.”

She said she and her children are honoured that his co-workers are raising money for cancer research on his behalf.  “The kids each raised money from their birthdays and are donating it to Barb and Tammy’s campaign.”

The public can donate to the campaign at IRIS in Parksville or by visiting www.irischallenge.ca.

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