Even as he blinked back the tears in his eyes, 14-year-old cancer survivor Matt Kercher grinned and clapped his hands as 22 cyclists came to the end of their long journey Friday evening.
Kercher was among 300 well-wishers who cheered as the police and media Canadian Cancer Society Cops for Cancer Tour de Rock riders took to the stage at Spirit Square in Victoria after cycling 1,200 kilometres over 14 days from Port Alice to Victoria.
“As (the event) gets bigger, there is a greater chance of getting rid of this disease,” said Kercher, who survived acute lymphoblastic leukemia, a cancer of the blood.
For some riders, the experience – which began more than eight months ago with intense physical training – far exceeded their expectations.
“It’s fantastic,” said Chris Bush, a photojournalist with Black Press’ Nanaimo News Bulletin, who lost his mother, aunt and three close friends to cancer in recent years.
Part of his inspiration in riding came from Kercher.
“He’s an amazing kid,” Bush said, adding that he was thrilled to do his part to help raise money for cancer research, which has helped save the lives of many of the junior riders, like Kercher, who were paired up with the Tour cyclists.
“Every junior rider you see sitting here is proof of that,” Bush said.
Organizers conservatively estimated the 14th annual Canadian Cancer Society’s Cops for Cancer Tour de Rock raised at least $1.502 million, though the final tally won’t be known for six months. A more accurate count for each region on the Island will be revealed in the coming weeks.
The campaign results are impressive, considering the first Tour in 1998 raised $312,000. Last year the ride generated $1.4 million.
Tracie Clayton was touched by the level of generosity shown by schools in the region, such as Oak Bay High, which raised $45,000.
“I was so emotional when I walked in that school (last Thursday), I don’t know how (the riders) are doing it,” said Clayton, Canadian Cancer Society revenue development assistant. “Just thinking about it is choking me up.”
Teenagers today have set the bar very high, she said.
“I think a whole generation of kids is being brought up in a different philanthropic way of living,” said Clayton.
On Friday morning, the riders stopped at Esquimalt High School and received a $2,300 donation.
“No matter how many schools we visit, it still amazes me how much this means to people,” Bush said at the high school, before riding to Esquimalt Plaza where Mayor Barbara Desjardins presented the riders with $2,373.59, raised during a September bike spinathon.
Later in the day, riders were moved to tears after receiving $84,000 from Reynolds secondary, as well as more than $12,000 from Mount Douglas secondary.
The money will support researchers in their quest to stamp out pediatric cancer, as well as support Camp Goodtimes in Maple Ridge, a medically equipped summer haven for kids with cancer and young cancer survivors.
“Every community we’ve gone into is just amazing,” Victoria police Const. Mike Massine said during a stop in Fairfield last Thursday, prior to riding to Lambrick secondary, where the riders were handed $4,500.
The journey has been very cathartic, he said.
“I’ve never had so many strangers come up to me and tell me their story… People will just come up to you and hug you and start crying on your shoulder,” said Massine.
Friday’s wrap-up event was a celebration, complete with dancing, a youth fun tent, head shaves, a performance by the Greater Victoria Police Chorus, a car raffle, Tour merchandise sales, as well as information on cancer prevention.