These words, from a friend, inspired Andrew Altow to sign up for the 2016 Ride to Conquer Cancer presented by Silver Wheaton benefiting the BC Cancer Foundation. “My friend had recently lost a close family member to cancer,” Altow said. “We both knew mutual friends who had done it in the past but we hadn’t considered it for ourselves. So we set a goal, which was to get some exercise and decided to do it in memory of those we have lost to cancer.” Three years earlier, Altow himself had to seek medical help for a heart issue. The Ride would let him and his friend do something for others, and themselves.
It’s the close personal connection many have to cancer that leads them to The Ride to Conquer Cancer and contribute to the cause of fighting the disease. “We had family members who were special to ride in memory of,” said Altow. “My mother-in-law passed away from melanoma a year after I married my wife, almost 20 years ago. I raised the money for cancer in her name creating my fundraising page with a photo of her at the top.”
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It was during the months leading up to The Ride that Altow began to discover his love for cycling. “We were middle-age guys and had never attempted anything remotely like this before, so it was like the old stories of the journey beginning with the first step. We took the first step by signing up,” he said.
Altow had never ridden at the level required to complete the two-day journey that covers more than 200 km between Vancouver and Seattle. “We had a few moments of ‘Oh my God, what did we get ourselves into?’” Altow recalled. “We didn’t really appreciate the magnitude of the ride.”
Part of the challenge was building up the required fitness; The Ride was a good motivator. “To train, we had to do it incrementally. In our minds, we are 20, but our bodies know otherwise,” said Altow. “We started with 20-km rides in March, so by the time the summer rolled around, we were cycling 80 to 100 km in a day and that was taking us all over the metro Vancouver area.”
An important part of cycling is the social connections it fosters. The sense of camaraderie was extremely important for Altow during his lead up to The Ride. He joined a local bike shop club for group rides as well as its associated team for the event called the Village Idiots for the Ride. In 2016, the team numbered nine members, which has ballooned to 16 in 2017.
“It was the part of The Ride that I didn’t appreciate at first: you build and develop a wonderful sense of camaraderie riding. Everyone has amazing support for each other. You cheer each other on and genuine friendships develop in a relatively short time span,” Altow said about this unexpected and rewarding aspect of preparing for The Ride to Conquer Cancer. “The training is intense as you will go for three- to six-hour rides and are spending all day with these people. It gives you opportunities to talk about people’s lives and families. You become really good friends and you genuinely want to help and support each other.”
Another extremely positive aspect of preparing for The Ride for Altow was improving his health. He had started incrementally, but the training required for the event helped him build back his fitness. “There is nothing like having a goal to get things done,” he said. “It is quite easy to sit on the couch and watch people ride on TV, but there is nothing like getting out on the road, whether by yourself to have that alone time or with your group of friends. The fresh air and sunshine—it is a great feeling.”
After his positive experience in 2016, Altow has new goals for 2017. He wants to double the amount of money he raised for the BC Cancer Foundation. The BC Ride has raised more than $77 million since 2009. Altow hopes the small contribution he and his group of friends can make is an important way in which they can give back to the community. Cancer, he says, is something that affects all parts of his broad community. What better way to contribute than by supporting the worthy fight to treat the disease and work toward a cure?
As Altow approaches his second Ride, it is less of a step into an unknown. “The first time we were absolutely clueless, but it was quite a remarkable experience,” he said. “I had a laminated picture of my mother-in-law on my handlebars. I didn’t appreciate how emotional crossing the finish line and hugging my wife and kids would be. It was an emotional roller-coaster and it was a wonderful, beautiful way to remember those we’ve lost to cancer.”
Get involved with the 2017 Ride to Conquer Cancer. Sign up now.