September 24, 2020

BY KRISTIN MILANI

The sixth annual Grand River Hospital Ride for Cancer kicked off Feb. 21 at Wildcraft Grill Bar in Waterloo. The ride itself isn’t for another five months but the training, preparation and fundraising has officially begun.

On Aug. 24, people will gather for the 120-kilometre non-competitive ride across Waterloo Region. The night before the ride, there will be a reception and silent auction. On ride day, those involved will get to enjoy a barbecue after the race and later attend a live auction and team dinner to celebrate.

The Ride for Cancer launch began with an informal cocktail reception for the sponsors, VIP guests, committee members, Grand River Hospital Foundation (GRHF) staff, people affected by cancer and the riders. It was an opportunity for them to socialize, reunite, reminisce and talk about the upcoming ride in August. The event was hosted by 105.3 Kool FM’s radio personality, Angie Hill. She kicked off the speech portion of the night by talking about what the riders should expect at this year’s event.

Some heartfelt and emotional speeches were then delivered by Olympic medallists Steve Bauer and Curt Harnett, cancer survivor Marcel Portelance, committee member of Ride for Cancer Rainer Mueller and the executive director of GRHF, Nancy Hewat.

Portelance is riding for the second time. He was first diagnosed with cancer in 2009 and went through a lot of chemotherapy and radiation for the next 18 months, which proved to be very hard on his system.

“Throughout the whole ordeal, I always tried to stay very positive and very confident that I would beat this disease. I wasn’t going to go out without a fight,” he said.

Portelance said he never thought he would be privileged to take part in the ride. Although he has only participated in one so far, he has attended every ride since 2009.

After watching his good friend and inspiration in the ride in 2010, Portelance decided he would no longer be on the sidelines and he would become one of the riders. On Dec. 13, 2010, he officially committed himself to the ride and set a goal to have the highest donation total. On his team, he had his wife, his daughter, his son and two of his good friends. Portelance found the training aspect to be difficult because he hadn’t rode a bike for years. He focused on his training and the team took care of the fundraising side. Together, they raised a total of $58,000. It wasn’t the highest overall donation total but it exceeded the amount of money he had hoped to raise.

Leading up to the ride, Portelance said he was overwhelmed by all of the support he received from friends, family and even from people he had never met before. He even formed friendships with some of the riders after his first Ride for Cancer.

“The whole event itself, it surpassed my expectations. I got stronger. I got more confident. The outlook on my life got better. Since then, I’ve never looked back to those dark days,” he said.

At each ride, the individual who raises the most money receives a yellow jersey and are awarded the honour of leading the ride. Dan Einwechter, last year’s top fundraiser, rode beside Portelance and found out that he postponed his last surgery in order to take part in the ride. He was so amazed by Portelance’s determination, training and recovery that he gave him the yellow jersey.

“To me, that was a champion,” Einwechter said.

Portelance’s motivation to participate in the ride was to give back to Grand River Hospital for all the help and support they gave him while he was battling the disease. He said the cancer treatment centre is fantastic and the hospital has great doctors and nurses.

“They did everything for me,” he said.

Nancy Hewat is someone who spends her time helping those in need at the hospital but is also battling cancer. GRHF helps the hospital to provide exceptional health care by raising funds. When it comes to the Ride for Cancer, she is amazed by the camaraderie of the cyclists and how they come together to not only raise funds but to have a fun time.

“The heartfelt passion I think that I have seen with new and repeat cyclists has been a big part of making this event a success. Their passion has been my highlight,” she said.

One of the committee members and top fundraisers, Emmanuel Patterson, has been involved with the Ride for Cancer from the very beginning in 2008. In August, he will be participating in his third ride.

“It means so much to do something in the community, for an amazing community facility with incredible foundation staffers who live and breathe these projects,” he said.