Local family takes on the Ride to Conquer Cancer
Tuesday, Aug 19, 2014 12:30 pm
It was a journey that Peter Bednarchuk and his family never wanted to embark upon. Four years ago, Peter’s daughter Sarah passed away after a lengthy battle with cancer. Only those who have been through such a tragedy can imagine the grief that followed, but for Bednarchuk and his family, the healing had to start somewhere.
Peter’s two sons, Matthew and Gregory, chose to begin their journey not on foot, but instead on the treads of their bicycles. “The boys needed to heal a bit,” Peter said. “It just didn’t make sense to them . . . How do we tilt this universe back?”
Matthew took the reigns, and in 2011 he became the captain of a team that would enter the Ride to Conquer Cancer, a yearly bike ride that raises money and awareness to help battle the disease.
When Peter first heard the name that his sons had chosen for their team, he was a little apprehensive. After some time and reflection, however, he came to peace with the moniker. “The kids came up with the name the first year - FU Cancer,” Peter said. “If you lose somebody you love, you’ll know what that means.”
Peter himself participated in the event in 2011 - not as a rider, but instead as a member of the support crew, as the massive two-day event requires hundreds of volunteers in order to succeed.
“The very first day of 2011 was a nice sunny warm day,” Peter said. “I got right into it . . . I got a cowbell and I started to cheer people on. We had a Hawaiian theme going at our pit stop, and we were just making people laugh, because it is physically a hard ride.”
The second day of the ride in 2011, however, was anything but sunny and warm. The riders and volunteers woke to a frigid, wet morning, adding an additional obstacle to the already difficult event. As the riders arrived at Peter’s pit stop, he saw that their spirits - and their physical limits - were being tested. “People were falling off their bicycles,” he said. “Their legs were numb from the wind, they were soaking wet.”
One particular rider approached Peter during that frenzy of activity, and his life would never quite be the same.
The annual ride is usually made up of about 1,500 - 2,000 riders, and a few hundred of those riders are often cancer survivors. The survivors have the option of tagging their bikes with a yellow flag in order to signify their triumphs over the disease, and this particular woman’s flag had fallen off.
“And this young woman - who would have been roughly my daughter’s age - she came to me with this flag and a handful of hardware,” Peter recounted, growing emotional at the recollection of the tale.
The woman asked Peter if he would carry the flag with him in his truck, as it was hindering her ability to pedal. Peter readily agreed, and then he asked her where her bike was so that he could help her load it up as well. He assumed that this woman, like many others that day, had been bested by the terrible conditions and was planning on packing it in. He was wrong.
“She says, ‘Oh no, I’m going on’ . . . My heart really went big,” Peter said, pointing to his chest. “I thought, ‘If this girl can do this, this man can do this.’”
Peter spent the next year training and getting into shape, and in 2012 he again travelled to the event, this time with his bicycle in tow. “In 2012 I did my first ride,” Peter said. “It poured rain from Friday night right through until Tuesday . . . But I’m a firm believer that there’s a plan for everything - it’s supposed to be hard.”
The event hit a snag in 2013 as the Alberta floods caused a last-minute scheduling change, and though the FU Cancer team raised their usual allotment of funds, they were forced to miss the ride due to the birth of Peter’s first grandchild.
On August 9 and 10, however, the FU Cancer team was back at full strength for the 2014 ride, with Peter again partaking in the grueling event.
“I had an experience every time,” Peter said. “This year’s experience was a flat - a rear wheel flat, which on a bicycle is a real pain.”
Sticking with a theme that seemed to course through this entire tale, Peter found a silver lining in his plight when he pulled to the side of the road in order to change his tire. “During the fifteen minutes it took me to change my tire, 17 cyclists - I counted them - and five vehicles, stopped to ask if I needed help. And not all of the vehicles were ride-sponsored,” Peter said. “When I see that, I know that we’re going in the right direction, somehow . . . Hopefully together we’ll get this beat.”
Though it wasn’t always easy, the soon-to-be 58-year-old finished the entire ride. “I made it, but every inch of the way was a fight,” he said.
Sponsored by Enbridge, the Alberta Ride to Conquer Cancer raised $7.9 million in 2014. According to their website, the money raised by the 1,768 riders, “Supports breakthrough research and the discovery of new cancer therapies at the Tom Baker Cancer Centre, the Cross Cancer Institute and 15 other cancer centres across the province.” Ride to Conquer Cancer events are also held in British Columbia, Ontario and Quebec.
Peter and some of his family members will now be stepping away from the FU Cancer team for the foreseeable future. The torch, however, has been passed to some of their teammates, and they still plan to assist with the fundraising. One of the reasons they are stepping back is that, for the Bednarchuk family, the ride has served its purpose.
“Without this ride, we would not be in the place we are today - we could not have done it,” Peter said. “This was one of the finest ways that we could heal. We are now ready to take the next step.”
The other reason is that the now-altered schedule of the event conflicts with the birthday of Peter’s granddaughter - a little girl named Karma Sarah Bednarchuk, whose middle name is a poignant tribute to the daughter, and the sister, that was lost.