BY BILL PHILLIPS
The Ride to Conquer Cancer has become a family affair for the McWalters … their immediate family and the larger family that is the Wheelin’ Warriors of the North.
Both David McWalter and his son Scott have done the 250-kilometre cycle trek that raises funds for the B.C. Cancer Foundation. Scott has been involved for a number of years and David will be heading out on his second ride this summer. It was an easy decision for both of them to get involved in the ride.
For Scott it was shortly after the 2015 Canada Winter Games four years ago when he met with Karin Piche who had created the Wheelin’ Warriors of the North a few of years prior and wanted to see the team grow.
“I asked her what her goal was with the Wheelin’ Warriors,” says Scott. “She said ‘I want to build and army against cancer.’”
Scott was immediately sold and, while he didn’t ride that year, he helped Piche with recruitment. The goal that year was 40 riders, which they manage to get. Scott couldn’t stay on the sidelines too long and rode in his first Ride to Conquer Cancer in 2016, when the goal was to get 50 riders.
In 2017, Scott handled marketing for the group and then in 2018 when he learned his father was riding “I had no choice but to put the pedal to the metal.”
For David, his family has been touched by cancer and he knew several people who were involved with the ride and involved with raising funds to fight cancer.
“A lot of my friends and some family members had all done the ride in previous years and I was always curious about it,” says David. “I’ve been a bike rider since I was a kid and now that retirement is here, I do have more time.”
He attended the Wheelin’ Warriors of the North Gala last spring and got in a bidding war with Joe Postnikoff on one of the silent auction items – a road bike. David was the successful bidder, so he joined up and put the bike to good use. He hasn’t regretted a moment.
“What I’ve enjoyed is the camaraderie and the social aspect of being with 70 people from Prince George who all have a passion about riding a bike for an absolutely amazing cause, which is the Ride to Conquer Cancer,” he says. “Now I get to fulfill my passion of riding a bike and helping find a cure for cancer in one event.”
The Wheelin’ Warriors’ numbers have increased every year and this year the team may crack 100 riders. The Wheelin’ Warriors have also raised about $700,000 for the B.C. Cancer Foundation and much of that money comes back to Prince George to help with the B.C. Cancer Centre for the North … a world class cancer-fighting facility.
“One of the things that astounds me, it’s not really out there in the public domain, is that the facility in Prince George is rated as the best facility in Canada and it’s rated in the top-three in the world,” says David. “It’s a horrible thing to say, but if you’re going to get cancer, Prince George is the place to get it.”
The Wheelin’ Warriors of the North Gala, which is slated for April 27 this year, has gotten larger over time as well. They’ve gone from holding it at the Treasure Cove, to the Prince George Golf and Curling Club, and now it will be at the Hart Community Centre as about 400 people are expected to attend.
“That is the biggest fundraiser that the Wheelin’ Warriors do,” says David. “Every rider has to raise $2,500 and a good chunk of the money that we raise comes from the dinner dance and the silent auction.”
A good number of the riders are also directly involved with the BC Cancer Centre for the North so “not only are they getting the money, they appreciate where the money is coming from and they’re putting their heart and soul back into it,” says David.
Last year David didn’t join the ride until April and missed the indoor training for the ride and jumped right into the outdoor training, which was tough, he says. Then, with all the fires last year, training moved back indoors during the summer months.
“I did most of my training indoors,” he says. “When you get out on the bike, it’s totally different … you can’t just sit there and pedal … you’re in live traffic so you have to watch what you’re doing.”
The lock-in pedals are an adjustment as well, which he found out the hard way.
“It sucks to fall off and I did that so often in the first month,” he says. “You’d come to a stop and forget unlock so you can’t put your foot down and you just go smack. But the whole thing was fun because of the people.”
Scott says many, many people and businesses in the city have been more than willing to step up and help … either through supporting the logistical aspect of the ride or by donating to the Wheelin’ Warriors’ fundraisers.
“The community support is great,” says Scott. “You look at the YMCA, which is a supporter of the group, this is a non-profit organization helping another non-profit organization.”
The YMCA has its volunteer instructors help the Wheelin’ Warriors with dryland training every Monday and Wednesday. They also offer a reduced rate for the Wheelin’ Warriors during their training.
And one of the most rewarding things for him, having been involved in a few rides now, is watching the riders thrive and grow.
“It’s really exciting to see people try something new that really scares the hell out of them,” says Scott. “It could be one of two parts, either raising $2,500 or the actual ride itself, which is 250 kilometres, or a combination of the two.”
First time riders are usually nervous and not quite sure what they have gotten themselves into but the journey leaves them brimming with confidence and pride when, as a group, they cross the finish line.
“It’s a character and confidence builder for a lot of people,” Scott says. “There’s nothing in this community that I’ve witnessed that allows a person to join a group and automatically feel that they have 70 new best friends.”