By: Elizabeth Chorney-Booth
For Randy McDonald, any longdistance bike ride is meaningful. The Calgarian has always loved the physical challenge of long-distance cycling — but there’s one ride that he’s looking forward to more than any other this year.
For the first time since 2019, this summer, McDonald will join friends, both old and new, for the Enbridge Tour Alberta For Cancer, a fundraising ride that has been an important part of his life since the event first started as the Ride to Conquer Cancer 14 years ago. After two years of the Tour operating as a virtual collection of individual rides, the full event is set to return with a ride that will take cyclists through a 200+ km route over two days on the July 23 weekend.
“I first got involved because I love cycling,” McDonald says. “But I had a number of close relatives and friends who had been affected by cancer and it seemed like a wonderful way to give back.”
Rebranding the tour
McDonald and his fellow riders will see some changes in this year’s Tour. The Alberta Cancer Foundation rebranded it as the Enbridge Tour Alberta For Cancer in 2021 in order to distinguish it from the national Ride to Conquer Cancer, which is organized by the Princess Margaret Hospital in Ontario. The new branding has a uniquely Albertan flavour.
The change also allows the Alberta Cancer Foundation to tailor some of the specifics, including the ability for participants to choose to do a shorter portion of the course to better suit their riding abilities or to participate virtually, even though the full in-person ride is going forward this year.
“We got a lot of really positive feedback from people in the last couple of years who were able to do it virtually,” says Ryan Campbell, director of corporate relations with the Alberta Cancer Foundation. “They loved that they could do a 10K with their kids, even if they weren’t able to commit to the full two-day event.”
For riders like McDonald, one of the biggest perks is the atmosphere of the ride, which carries a vibrant festival feel, with people wearing costumes to cheer on the cyclists and riders developing lifelong friendships as they travel along the road. Even more importantly, the Tour gives participants a chance to think about why they’re riding in the first place. Cancer survivors and riders who are in the midst of treatment are given special flags to put on their bikes so others can cheer them on throughout the ride. The Tour has become about more than a group of cyclists — it’s a community of people testing their physical limitations for a common cause.
“A secondary benefit of the event is that it creates a support group for people,” Campbell says. “When cancer is in your life, it’s really easy to feel alone. Being part of this community allows you to share those emotions and those feelings and talk them out with people.”
Of course, the Tour is also a fundraiser — and a big one at that, raising around $6-7 million in the years where it has been done as a full in-person event. To participate, a rider has to raise a minimum of $2,500, which is typically done through special events ranging from head shaves to hockey tournaments or sponsorships, be they corporate or through individual donors. All money raised supports patients at one of Alberta Health Services’ 17 cancer care centres across the province. The new format of the Tour allows riders to direct their funds to not only the centre of their choice, but to specific areas such as research, equipment or urgent needs.
McDonald says he’s ridden on behalf of a different friend or family member with a cancer diagnosis every year — sadly, this year, he’s dedicating his ride to his wife, who was diagnosed with cancer last year. While he hopes that one day everyone he cares about will be cancer-free and he can ride for a more generalized cause, he says the Tour is now part of his life, and, as long as he’s in riding shape, he’ll show up to ride alongside his fundraising community.
“I have an obligation to do this every year because I love cycling and because I can approach people to raise money,” he says. “As long as I’m physically able to do this, I will.”
The goal for the 2022 Tour is to raise $5 million. To donate, support a rider or register for the event, visit touralbertaforcancer.ca.