The first ride was the hardest but Anni Rychtera did it and three others since.
She was having chemotherapy treatment for NonHodgkins Lymphoma when she first heard about The Enbridge Ride to Conquer Cancer to benefit the BC Cancer Foundation in 2008.
“I was the sickest I had ever been in my whole life but I thought it would be exciting to be part of it someday,” she said. Then she read an article about the ride in The Globe and Mail.
“It sparked my interest again and I dragged myself to the computer to sign up,” said Rychtera, a nurse-practioner who teaches at Sprott-Shaw Community College in Kelowna and is also a natural health practitioner. She was always active, loved sports and grew up riding her bike in her native Bavaria. She had done a 10-day bike ride along the Rhine River with her children and partner shortly before she was diagnosed with cancer.
“You don’t think you will be able to do these things again but if you put a goal in your head and have a dream, there is a lot you can do. Getting ready for the ride gave me a lot of motivation for recovery, to show my children that Mom was going to be OK again.”
She started training by walking her son to the school bus, then riding her bike increasingly longer distances. She met some other bikers from Vernon who were going to the ride and they trained together, but she had not done a ride more than 200K before the event. The ride was also a way for her to honour the memory of her mother, who died of cancer in January 2009, not knowing her daughter also had cancer.
“I had worked in pediatric oncology and I was also thinking of so many of my little patients who didn’t make it. They were all in my heart. I wanted to ride to give people and their families hope that they can do it as well. You need to see the survivors, there are a lot of people surviving, you just don’t hear as much about them. People need to believe,” she said.
The ride route is from Surrey to Mount Vernon, Wash. (130K) the first day and on to Redmond, Wash., near Seattle (121K) the second day.
“The cancer survivors ride with a yellow flag. It seemed there were a lot of survivors that first year (2009). The atmosphere keeps you going — one man did the ride on a unicycle and another was on a tricycle. Everyone is so supportive and encouraging. My daughter was volunteering at the lunch stops and I kept going to see her. The first time across the finish line, I was flying so high, I thought, ‘If I can do this, I can beat this bloody cancer.’”
Rychtera completed the rides for the next three years and is symptom-free at the moment, waiting for her next scan as proof. She’s already looking ahead to her fifth ride which she will do with her daughter, and, she hopes, a team from Vernon.
“Every year the ride seems easier. It is doable and it’s worth it to help people who are fighting cancer. The first year the proceeds from the ride bought another PET scan for diagnosis and check ups of treatment progression. Before that, there had been only one scan for the whole province, so waiting times were cut in half. That means so much to people,” said Rychtera, who is a volunteer with the Leukemia Lymphoma Society, available to talk to people who are newly diagnosed, and who also volunteers with the Cancer Relaxation Group in Vernon.
The 2012 Ride to Conquer Cancer had a record-breaking 3,011 participants raising $11.2 million for the BC Cancer Foundation. For more information see www.conquercancer.ca.