When Graham Robertson started the Cycle of Life Tour, he never dreamed it would reach the success that is has today.
The tour originally began as a one-man cycling tour from Anchorage, Alaska to Victoria and has since morphed into a two-day, nearly 200 kilometre group cycling event around southern Vancouver Island, raising thousands of dollars in support of hospice care on the Island.
Now, the Victoria resident’s efforts are being honoured nationally. Robertson was recently awarded the Sovereign’s Medal for Volunteers from the Governor General of Canada, which recognizes exceptional volunteer achievements from residents across the country in a variety of fields.
“It was a pretty crazy shock,” said the 33-year-old registered massage therapist at Acacia Health in Vic West and father of two. “Not on the grandest day (did I think I would win). I didn’t even think to consider I was in the same ballpark as the other people who received these awards.”
Robertson’s road to support hospice was an unlikely one that began seven years ago.
In 2010, Robertson’s colleague Lindsay was diagnosed with an advanced form of lymphoma. Lindsay’s family put on a fundraiser to help cover the costs of travelling for treatments.
Struck with compassion, Robertson agreed to shave four inches of his hair in support of Lindsay.
“From what I remember about Lindsay, she had an energy and a vitality to her that seemed to bring out the positivity in everybody,” Robertson said. “It didn’t seem like there was much of a decision that needed to be made when I heard she needed help.”
It was Lindsay’s cause that became the catalyst for Robertson to give back to his community — something he decided to take on riding on two wheels.
The next question became what cause did Robertson want to donate his funds to? He turned to close family and friends for advice on where he should give back, many of whom told him about the impact of hospice and palliative care on Vancouver Island.
Shortly after, Robertson, along with his partner Beth Turner, founded the Cycle of Life tour in 2011, and have since raised more than $365,000 over the last five years — $236,000 of which was used to fund end-of-life care at Victoria Hospice.
Pamela Hutchison, who works with Robertson and nominated him for the award, has participated in the tour for several years. Hutchison described Robertson as an incredibly positive, generous and warm person, who is always looking for ways to help people.
“He has never taken a cent of payment for any of his work and sometimes organizing the ride is like having a second full-time job,” she said. “It’s just incredible that he would take his extra time and energy and pour it into raising money for hospice.”
Eventually, organizing such a large scale fundraiser took a toll on the young family, despite all the support they received, and in 2016, Robertson decided to hand over the reigns of the tour to Victoria Hospice.
But that hasn’t stopped him from participating. Last year, Robertson rode the tour on a tandem bike.
“I hope it’s something that just keeps going and becomes its own institution, it’s self-sustaining and it makes an impact,” he said. “I hope it continues on its own and there’s some weird story from years ago about this guy named Graham who started it. It creates its own identity and grows on its own and becomes a permanent fixture in Victoria.”
While it was Robertson who was honoured with the award, he was quick to share his achievements with Beth, who played a big role in getting the tour off the ground.
This year’s Cycle of Life Tour takes place July 22 to 23.