If the Tour de Rock is a “beacon of hope” for families affected by childhood cancer, as alumni rider Rob House described it, the goal of this year’s ride is to keep it burning during the COVID-19 pandemic.
House, former principal of Spectrum Community School, will be doing his part Thursday when he and five other alumni riders, Jack McClintock, Lori Lumley, Alan Neville, Rob Farrell and Bob MacDonald, will ride from Victoria to Sidney to complete one of the last legs of this year’s tour. The group is expected to arrive in Sidney around noon, stopping at the Coast Capital Savings branch.
The annual Cops for Cancer bike ride, now in its 22nd year, raises funds in support of life-saving pediatric cancer research and support programs for children and their families with a history of cancer. It concludes Oct. 2 in Victoria, having started Sept. 23 on north Vancouver Island.
COVID-19 forced organizers to modify the ride, spreading some 50 different alumni riders across 10 different legs. Organizers also cancelled or scaled back fundraising events, which had consequences for the charity’s totals.
This year’s fundraising goal is $600,000, about half the normal total. House is confident the tour will meet this goal by its conclusion and return next year in its usual format.
Finally, social distancing measures also mean riders – last year’s team included 12 police officers, two media personalities and eight guest riders – have scaled back their interactions with the public.
”I remember a grandmother from the ride from Port Alberni to Ucluelet,” House recalled from his Tour ride in 2018. “We happened to bump into her and she then proceeded to tell her very hopeful story about her granddaughter, who is a survivor of cancer. And on the spot, she made a US $100 donation. It’s stories like that we certainly remember and I’d like to think stories like that can still happen during this tour.”
Ultimately, the long-term future of the event depends on the development of a vaccine, House said. “Let’s say that the COVID numbers stabilize once we get a vaccine going, and we can return to some normalcy. My sincere hope is that next year, (Tour de Rock) can run as usual. That may be optimistic, I don’t know, but I tend to be an optimistic person.”
He added that Tour de Rock is simply too important a cause on which to give up.
“This is Vancouver Island’s charity,” he said. “The ride goes into 29 communities up and down the Island, so I would really like to see and hope that it will return to some kind of normalcy next year. I do believe, ironically, that the team had been picked (for this year). So all things being equal, that group will ride next year.”
This year’s riders were drawn from a pool of 400 to 500 alumni and the leg to Sidney came together through the event’s mailing list and social media.
“So when COVID-19 happened and it became apparent that things were not going to be normal, they (organizers) just put the call out,” House said. “Who can ride in the North? Who can ride in mid-Island? Who can ride the Ucluelet-Tofino run?”
Several riders, in fact, are doing multiple legs, a telling level of commitment, he said.
“People are just so committed to this cause that even though we cannot do the usual tour, we [alumni] are happy to do it this year to keep the awareness going for folks.”
To learn more and donate, see tourderock.ca.