Tour de Rock sends message of hope

Riders, fundraisers and the community step up to help children suffering from cancer

Ballenas student Tyson Nerbus loses his locks at a Tour de Rock fundraising day in the gym of the Parksville high school.

Ballenas student Tyson Nerbus loses his locks at a Tour de Rock fundraising day in the gym of the Parksville high school.

On September 24 Canadian Cancer Society Cops for Cancer Tour de Rock members began peddling their way from one end of the Vancouver Island to the other and along the way have had their hearts touched by the many people who have been affected by cancer.

Last year’s Tour de Rock raised $1.4 million and the Oceanside community played a role in the enormous amount.

A whopping $62,000 was generated locally for this year’s campaign and more money will trickle in down the road.

Karen Little said on behalf of the Parksville Thrifty Foods Smile Team that they could not have achieved their financial goal without help from their many volunteers.

The Tour is not only raising money for pediatric cancer research and programs for children with a history of cancer.  The team was also letting the public know how important it is for cancer survivors to thrive.

There are 22 riders in all made up of police officers from CFB Esquimalt​, Comox, Nanaimo, Campbell River, Oceanside, Port Alberni and Westshore RCMP detachments and Saanich, Victoria and Oak Bay municipal police departments.

The team, which is complimented by three media riders from A News, Black Press​ and KOOL FM., left Port Alice 14 days ago and rolls into Esquimalt and Saanich today to celebrate the finale of their epic trip.

There were some extra high fives for Oceanside Constable Rochelle Carr and Auxiliary Officer Bill Peppy when the team arrived in the Oceanside area on Thursday, September 29 and the community greeted the riders not only with open hearts, but open wallets as well.

The pair were front and centre at the Oceanside 2011 Tour de Rock Dinner and Auction September 29 at the Parksville Community and Conference Centre.

Peppy, 44, is the bakery operations manager for Country Grocer when not in uniform. He is also head instructor of the Oceanside Martial Arts School in Parksville.

He told the gathering the ride has been profound for him. He said he knew seven months ago that it would be a lot of work physically and he was warned by fellow law enforcement officers that it would also be emotional. Peppy admitted to the group that now he knows what they were talking about.

“I got hit last night. One kid stood out in Cumberland … 11 year old Brittany.”

He went on to say her cancer was in remission but she was struggling at school because kids would tease her. Peppy said he got the young girl who had been in tears to sit with the team in front of the whole school and made her feel like she could be just like everyone else.

“Before we went in I gave her my bracelet which reads: hope, dream, inspire.

“That’s when I got it.”

Peppy also talked of the camaraderie that exists among the riders on the team.

“I have met some cool guys. I have got to know a bunch of people I have never met before. I ride with them and laugh with them.”

And while he has enjoyed hanging out with his teammates, he let his wife and two children who were at the event showing their support know how much he appreciates their generosity.

“I am blessed with an awesome wife and two great healthy kids.”

Peppy’s official team vest was auctioned off for $325 and went to his wife Debbie who was determined to outbid everyone.

The couple have long been part of a Cops for Cancer golf tournament and took on responsibility for the event in 2006, moving it from Arbutus Ridge to Parksville’s Morningstar course.

Judging by the cheque for $12,500 presented to tour organizers from Debbie at the gala, this year’s golf tournament — which was held on September 9 — was a huge success.

It is hard to describe the way in which the people of Vancouver Island have embraced the cause.  All the work — all the head shaves and hot dog sales — done by the fiercely dedicated fundraising committees in each of the 27 communities that the tour rolls through each fall, is hard to measure.

Fifteen million dollars has been raised by the Cops for Cancer event on Vancouver Island alone since 1998.

The Canadian Cancer Society uses the money to fund pediatric cancer research and programs that help children with cancer and their families.

Part of the funds generated from the event will enable 600 kids to attend Camp Goodtimes for free. It costs $1,500 to send one child to camp for one week.  The camp is a place where kids can put the trials and tribulations of cancer on the back burner for a few days and share in the magic of summer camp with other kids who have lost their hair or limbs.

Fighting back against a disease that strikes the ones you love is what motivates Oura Giakoumakis, one of the owners of Thalassa Restaurant at the Qualicum Beach Memorial Golf Club. She and her business partner and sister-in-law Kalli Bourodemos have been fundraising at the restaurant for the last three years and presented this year’s tour organizers with a cheque for $18,200.

Giakoumakis said they know first hand how childhood cancer affects the entire family. Bourodemos has a son who will be turning 12 years old in March. Georgious is a Luekemia survivor who Giakoumakis said has truly been an inspiration.

 

“Our nephew has taught us to be strong and we are privileged to have him in our family,” she admitted.

The Tour de Rock is very much a family affair for Constable Aaron Murray.

“My dad was diagnosed with cancer in 2008. Stage four lymphoma, they said. It hit me like a ton of bricks.”

It also gave the 33-year-old Saanich police officer all the incentive he needed to jump on the bike.

Aaron’s dad is in remission now, retired to Nanaimo after a career in law enforcement that took the family all over B.C.

Murray said he was surprised by how emotional the Tour de Rock experience has been. He added the most physically challenging part of the ride so far has been the 150 kilometre leg between Port McNeil to Sayward when it was rainy and windy.

“It was the combination of distance, weather and elevation. It was only day two … but its all relative. We only suffer for a few hours, but kids with cancer go through a lot more.”

He said even though he is an officer who patrols on a mountain bike, his endurance was taken to a whole new level during training and he admits his muscles protested at times during the ride. The team was supported by a crew of 15 which included a paramedic, physiotherapist and bike technicians.

While in Parksville the team spent the night at the Quality Resort Bayside Inn. He said the night before it was at Crown Isle in Courtenay but he admitted he really enjoyed sleeping on the gymnasium floor on their first night in Port Alice.

“It was great. The people from the town brought us their air mattresses to sleep on. It was heart warming.”

Murray said his girlfriend has been very supportive and even made him inspirational cards for each day of the trip.

The motivational speaker that evening was Janelle Canning who participated in the 2009 Tour de Rock representing the RCMP in Port Hardy.  She said when she signed on for the tour she knew it would be tough, and she almost bowed out well into her training because her grandmother got diagnosed with cancer at that time and she wanted to be with her. Instead she rode in the tour, doing if for her grandmother and she admitted that even though she wasn’t one of the strongest riders on the team she was one of the first one’s to get up and over “The Hump” to Port Alberni.

She told the supporters in Parksville that she was driven by a divine power and as it turned out, she learned her grandmother had passed that afternoon, the same time she was powering through the steep climb from Parksville to Port Alberni.

The gymnasium at Ballenas High School was packed to the rafters when the team dropped in on day six for a friendly game of volleyball with the senior girls team.

Ballenas Principal Don Boyd said his school raised $8,000 last year for Tour de Rock and the money is still coming in for the campaign this year. A cheque for $1,500 was presented to Tour de Rock organizers and Boyd said the fundraising is ongoing. He said they have been raising money with school barbecues each Tuesday and Thursday and will continue with the school barbecues on the first Tuesday of each month throughout the school year.

 

The Tour de Rock team has been on the road for two weeks and has covered over 1,000 kilometres.