Hope’s Wheeled Wild Women know that cancer affects us all.
The group began with 10 members who bonded over kayaking, and were known just as the Wild Women. Over the course of 20 years, two of those original members have died from cancer, and another is a survivor. Even more have lost family members and close friends to different cancers.
But they haven’t let their losses defeat them. Last year, when they found out that the Ride To Conquer Cancer was going to change course and come to Hope as a final stop, they knew they needed to join the event. It had always ended in Seattle, and this was the perfect opportunity to support a local ride.
So, several of the women went to an open house hosted by ride organizers and AdvantageHOPE, of which Tammy Shields was the executive director at the time. Even in planning the event, Shields had never considered joining the event. She was just excited to bring such a large event to town, and share the community with others. The event can bring up to six or seven thousand people, including riders, volunteers and support teams.
“I thought, ‘This is huge!’” Shields says.
But it didn’t take long for Shields to ‘click’ with the Wild Women. They added “Wheeled” to their name, and easily co-erced Shields to join them. They took her under their collective wing and, starting with spin classes, Shields quickly became a cyclist.
Unfortunately, last year’s forest fires and the ensuing smoke caused a change in plans that kept the ride from arriving here. But this year, it’s looking very positive that it can go ahead as originally planned, starting in Cloverdale on Aug. 24 and reaching Hope on Aug. 25.
The whole idea of the Ride to Conquer Cancer also had a very personal meaning for Shields as she worked on both organizing and training for the ride. Her father became ill, and passed away due to cancer in 2017.
Once the 2018 ride arrived, she realized how many riders have been affected by cancer. Many ride for family members, spouses, children, and friends. Others are survivors themselves and can be identified by the yellow flags on their bikes. Some survivors also choose not to identify themselves.
“It was an amazing experience on many levels,” Shields says. “It just touches you in so many ways. And it levels the playing field. You realize you are all there and united in the fight to conquer cancer.”
There are people who line the route and hold signs, thanking them for their efforts. And the thanks are well-earned. Over the past 10 years, Ride to Conquer Cancer has raised more than $96 million toward research, and that funding has resulted in research that has improved the chances of cancer patients around the province. Funds from the ride have supported more than 47 projects, investigating more than 50 different cancer types. Achievements includes enhanced brain cancer care, advanced immunotherapy treatment development, and the world’s largest breast cancer study, learning how to match genomic mutations in the tumours with known or new combinations of therapies.
While the research couldn’t save Shield’s father, she is sure that advancements prolonged his life and made his treatment easier than it would have been in the past.
“It definitely eased his suffering and gave him more time,” she says.
She thought about all of that and more while on last year’s ride, and pushed through the tough parts by thinking about her father and others who have died from cancer. She also kept a Melissa Ethridge song in her head, I Can’t Quit, to keep her going.
And she’s preparing once again, along with her team. She’s completed a half marathon this year, and summited the Allison Pass. If you can do a summit and ride 100 km in a day, she says, you can call yourself a cyclist and you can survive the 200 km Ride to Conquer Cancer.
Riders not only have to condition themselves for the ride, they need to step up to the financial plate. The ride is all about fundraising, and to participate, a rider has to contribute $2,500.
“That’s the whole point of it,” she says. “There is breakthrough research happening because of this ride.”
It’s helped change the face of cancer care in the province, putting the BC Cancer Agency at the top of the list in cancer research and care in the world. In the evening of the first night, riders learn more about the research through speakers who tell them about where the money is going.