Looking Back: Cops for Cancer rides have their roots right here on the Island

Tour de Rock was a Saanich cop’s dream that became a reality

Victoria police officers Murray Kennett and Suki Dhesi pose with their bikes before the second-ever Tour de Rock ride in 1999 in this Victoria News photo. A Saanich officer dreamed up the ride the year previous and the Tour has gone strong since – now in its 14th year.

What started out as a germ of an idea in a Saanich police officer’s mind was the start of an annual campaign that has raised tens of millions of dollars province-wide to help support kids with cancer.

It was now-retired Saanich constable Martin Pepper who first proposed the idea of having law enforcement officials cycle the length of Vancouver Island after wanting to do something more than a head shave.

In September 1998, the first Tour de Rock was held.

“I was invited to join the team and work with Martin to help train the team,” said Staff Sgt. Penny Durrant with Victoria police. Her background as a track, mountain and road cyclist was what the team needed to help them prepare for the ride. “The thing with the first year was we were embarking on a project that we really didn’t know how it would go – other than we were riding bicycles down the Island and hoping people will get us money.”

That first year, Durrant said, was “really successful.” The team raised $312,000 for the Canadian Cancer Society and Camp Goodtimes.

After the first year, Durrant said she recalls having discussions about whether or not a similar ride could be held again. “We wondered if people would donate again.”

And they did. Now in its 14th year, Cops for Cancer has grown to include four different rides provincially – Tour de Rock, Tour de Valley, Tour de North and Tour de Coast – and is even more successful than it was in its first years. Last year’s Tour de Rock raised $1.4 million.

Durrant remained on the steering committee for the first 11 years of the Tour, training the team members for the ride, too.

“It’s always been a very emotional event. And most people go through this, they train March through September thinking they’re training for a bike ride. Really, they’re training on bicycles to get through a journey,” she said. “It’s not about the bike, it’s about the kids and their families and the journey and the teamwork and the support from family and friends. It’s truly the community behind them.”

Durrant said she’s honoured to have been part of Cops for Cancer since essentially Day 1. “To know that something I was involved in and helped develop alongside a team, to see the benefits from something like this, all the money raised, that’s a great feeling.”

For the 21-year veteran of Victoria police, she’s thrilled to see just how successful the Tours continue to be, especially since the motivation, the reason behind the ride, has never changed.

“It’s simply raising money to help save the lives of kids and to support their families. It’s not about the cops, it’s not about the police departments, it’s about (kids and families) and seeing a community contribute to that,” she said.

“And for a cause like this, that’s a given. That should happen regardless of us riding bikes.”

kslavin@saanichnews.com

Enter to Win!

You could win a prize package from Trek bicycles! The package includes a Trek bike with clip-in pedals and shoes, a helmet, and a signed Tour de Rock jersey. To enter, visit the Black Press office at 818 Broughton St. to fill out a form, or enter online here. Winners will be drawn Oct. 7 and notified by email.

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