In a sea of hundreds of cyclists the mood seems light at first glance. People are smiling and laughing but there’s a reason the Ride to Conquer Cancer draws a huge crowd every year.
For Rich Fryer of the Victoria Fire Department, the event has as many emotional up and downs as the hills he and the fire department’s cycling team have ridden for the past two years.
“We’ve lost three chiefs … in three years, in Victoria alone,” says Fryer.
Doug Angrove, a former fire chief, was diagnosed with brain cancer and eventually succumbed to the disease in May 2017. While Angrove was in the midst of his battle, Fryer went to see him in the hospital and knew he needed to do something that would make some sort of an impact.
At the same time, Richard Couch — another former chief — wanted to do his part and chose to do the 200-kilometre ride with the rest of the team. Six months later, Couch was diagnosed with cancer and died a short time later.
Stan Thame, retired battalion chief for the department, also died in December 2018 following a battle with cancer.
“You’re there, having a good time, riding with all our buddies and then you hear the stories and it comes back to the reality of why you’re actually doing it,” says Fryer. “You realize why people are putting so much energy into it.”
The Gala For Hope, happening on June 15, is the main fundraiser the Victoria Fire Department takes on before heading to the Ride to Conquer Cancer that happens on the Lower Mainland in August. The name takes on a special meaning as the 200-km ride ends in the community of Hope.
Jeff Cullen, of the Victoria Fire Department, says that while it’s an emotional experience, it’s a cause that hits home for most of the firefighters.
“Our chief was literally in the hospital sick and trying to fight cancer,” says Cullen.
“There’s never going to be a better time [to take this on] than when we’re having to go visit someone in our career who’s dying so that really spurred the whole thing.”
Firefighters have a nine per cent higher risk of being diagnosed with cancer and a 14 per cent higher risk of dying from cancer than the general population, according to the Firefighter Cancer Support Network.
“We look after ourselves a lot better than the older guys did because we’re more aware of the issues, but our fires are also more toxic than theirs,” says Fryer.
For Fryer, the ride takes on another meaning as he lost his best friend to brain cancer in 2004. After experiencing headaches, Fryer’s best friend went to the doctors. While waiting in emergency he had a seizure and two weeks later he died.
“He didn’t even know he had a tumour,” says Fryer.
For more information on the Gala For Hope or to purchase tickets visit eventbrite.ca.