For many years, while taking long summer drives with his wife, Tom Hewitt would come across the steady string of cyclists making the 200-kilometre trek for the annual Enbridge Ride to Conquer Cancer.
“I kept saying to my wife, ‘I should do that sometime, I should get involved,’” Hewitt recalls.
And four years ago, that’s exactly what he did.
In 2015, as the regional manager of National Oilwell Varco (NOV) in Calgary, he recruited 40 of his co-workers to join him as a part of Team NOV — and that was just the beginning. The team has continued to ride ever since, and has been one of the top 10 fundraising teams every year.
“It just keeps growing. We’re so passionate about it,” says Hewitt. “There are so many people affected by cancer. Everyone on our team knows someone or has a family member who has or has had cancer, so it’s special to be a part of this.”
The Enbridge Ride to Conquer Cancer has been running for 10 years in support of the Alberta Cancer Foundation. Every year, thousands of cyclists make the two-day, 200-km journey through Alberta roads as spectators cheer them on. The Alberta Ride has raised more than $74 million since its inception, in support of cancer research, clinical trials and enhanced care programs offered at the 17 cancer centres across Alberta.
In 2018, more than 1,800 cyclists started the Ride at WinSport after collectively raising a record-breaking $8.12 million. Unfortunately, poor air quality, caused by blowing smoke from B.C. wildfires, made it unsafe for the riders to continue and the Ride was cut short just a few hours in.
“We had some first-time riders on our team,” says Hewitt. “So it was kind of sad that they didn’t get to experience crossing the finish line. You get goosebumps when you cross that finish line. I’ll never forget the first time I crossed it — everyone on the team had tears in their eyes.”
Despite the shortened event, Hewitt says the important part was that money was still raised for the Alberta Cancer Foundation. In 2018, NOV’s team of 66 riders fundraised more than $210,000.
Team NOV’s riders fundraise for themselves, but they also work together to come up with fun and creative ways to raise money, including a past venture they call “Game of Thrones.” For that effort, the team decorated eight toilets and mounted them on pallets that were sent to people’s yards or businesses. Each toilet was designed with different themes and included a sign reading “Help us flush cancer.”
The eight toilets were first sponsored by someone close to the team to be sent to an address of their choice. Once a toilet was delivered, recipients could “re-gift” it to a friend by donating some money to the cause. Members of Team NOV were on the move six nights a week delivering the toilets to new locations across Calgary. Over the two years it ran, the initiative brought in $30,000.
Hewitt also takes it upon himself to reach out to NOV’s vendors and customers for sponsorships, and in 2018, raised $57,000 from those donations. The company also sponsored the 2018 finish line by paying to have banners and flags brandishing the NOV logo placed there for both days. By the time the 2018 Ride was called off, 10 riders from Team NOV, including Hewitt, were only 40 km away from the finish line in Sundre and opted to brave the smoke and finish the day’s journey. They were the only team members to bear witness to the NOV banners, but Hewitt said it was wonderful to see. The company is set to sponsor the finish line again for the 2019 Ride.
Since 2015, Team NOV has raised $617,000 in total, and shows no signs of slowing. More than 40 riders are already signed up for the 2019 Ride, and Hewitt says they’re committed to breaking the million-dollar mark.
“We’re pretty proud of what we’ve done,” he says. “It’s so rewarding, and it puts it into perspective when you see the research and trials that the money goes toward.”