Sitting astride his Cannondale bicycle in a striking red jersey, Adam Beaudoin looks ready to take on the world.
“Two and a half years ago I read Lance Armstrong’s book It’s Not About the Bike,” said Beaudoin, 17. “That really inspired me.”
Armstrong’s story about his will to defeat testicular cancer lit a spark in the Oak Bay teen. When two of Beaudoin’s aunts were diagnosed with cancer soon afterwards, that spark rapidly grew into an inferno.
He knew he had to do something to fight the deadly disease.
Beaudoin fired his first salvo last summer in Seattle. Joined by his parents, brother and a friend, Beaudoin took part in a Livestrong challenge in support of Armstrong’s cancer charity. Riding 120 kilometres in a mere four and a half hours, Beaudoin raised roughly $2,500.
It was a good start, but he was eager to do more.
The proverbial lightbulb went off this spring. Beaudoin, a member of Oak Bay High’s class of 2011 — which included two friends stricken by cancer — had been accepted to Queen’s University in Kingston, Ont., to study kinesiology. Knowing that he would soon be moving, Beaudoin hatched an ambitious plan.
He would ride his bike to Kingston.
“This ride will surpass my physical abilities far and wide,” Beaudoin said. “But I’m not doing this for myself. I’m doing it for the thousands of people who are threatened by cancer.”
After taking the ferry to Tsawwassen on Saturday, Beaudoin set out for Hope. It’s an appropriately named destination for day one of a month-long ride that will see Beaudoin cover 4,700 kilometres of highway in the name of charity.
The goal is to raise more than $70,000 for the B.C. Cancer Foundation. That’s no pie-in-the-sky figure: A close friend of the family, Steve Clark, himself a cancer survivor, pledged $5 per km that Beaudoin rides, and will match any further donations up to the equivalent of another $5 per km.
“You are an exceptional young man, right out of high school and not only striving to be your best but also to use this experience to raise awareness for a valuable cause,” Clark wrote in a letter explaining his pledge.
The distance alone is immense. But the fact that Beaudoin plans to complete his ride in time for move-in day at Queen’s on Sept. 4 makes his quest even more challenging. In order to finish on schedule, he plans to ride about 160 km per day.
“I do crazy physical challenges all the time,” said Beaudoin. “I ran in the Grand Canyon earlier this year for four and a half hours without much training.
“But this is way more intense.”
Beaudoin acknowledged that while physical stamina will be key to completing his mission — he’s been riding up to 130 km per day leading up to his departure — it will be even more important to remain mentally strong during the long, solitary ride, which will include a five-day stretch without any accompaniment.
“I’ll think about anything — calculus, chemistry, friends, situations in my life. It’s kind of like meditation for me,” he said.
The day before Beaudoin set out, his mother, Ann Marcotte, still couldn’t fully grasp the magnitude of what her son was about to undertake.
“We’re very proud. Our heads are spinning a bit,” she said.
Beaudoin’s head, however, is about as straight as can be.
“When people hear that I’m doing it, they say ‘wow, you’re amazing!’ but I don’t see myself as an amazing kid at all,” he said. “It’s just the way I choose to live my life.”
Beaudoin is chronicling his ride on his blog, at http://adam-beaudoin.blogspot.com. The blog contains links to his B.C. Cancer Foundation donation page.
Beaudoin had already raised close to $5,000 before leaving on his journey.
“I’m doing this for my family. I’m doing it for my grad class,” he said.
“I think I have the mental strength to make it through.”
Selflessness runs deep
Those who know Adam Beaudoin best say his ambitious charity ride comes as no surprise. It’s just one of many examples of a social conscience and a level of maturity that belie his youth.
“I have a career of 46 years working with youth,” said Allen York, chair of the Oak Bay High counselling department. “Rarely have I seen someone as altruistic as he is.”
York taught Beaudoin peer counselling at the school, and says the teen has had a profound impact on the lives of several students, to the point of preventing suicides.
“I can absolutely guarantee that there are two people alive because of Adam’s skill … in being able to get a young person to speak about their dark secret and trust him enough to go with him for appropriate medical intervention,” he said.
Another way Beaudoin has shown his desire to put others before himself came when he helped lead a campaign to raise funds for a pair of solar panels for his school. His group raised $40,000.
“We’re all just floored here,” said his mother, Ann Marcotte. “We’re constantly amazed by his initiative and spirit.”