Campbell River’s Jacob Koomen is used to being told he’s crazy. And he’s okay with that.
“I know I’m crazy,” Koomen says.
But if he’s crazy, then perhaps so are roughly 90 other cyclists who, along with Koomen, will be tackling a gruelling, 400-kilometre ride from Kelowna to Delta in a single day this Saturday. At 68, Koomen will be one of the oldest participants.
The event, dubbed the Ride2Survive, is a cycle tour in support of the Canadian Cancer Society.
This will be Koomen’s fifth time participating in the ride which is in its 11th year.
An avid sportsman, Koomen puts in 20 kilometres round trip cycling to work three times a week, and rides with the River City Cycle Club on Wednesday nights and on Sundays, typically embarking on 100 kilometre cycle trips.
But it’s long rides, like the Ride2Survive, that are his bailiwick.
“Those long fundraising rides are something to me,” Koomen says. “You’re riding for a cause.”
This year, Koomen will be riding for his wife Jannie’s brother and her brother’s wife, who both succumbed to cancer, as well as for a cousin whom Koomen lost to lung cancer in October.
Also on Koomen’s mind will be his neighbour who is battling cancer as well as a friend diagnosed with pancreatic cancer last July.
“He was told he had three months to live and he’s still riding a bike today,” Koomen says. “He’s not going to give up. He says ‘this cancer’s not going to beat me.’ It’s amazing.”
It’s people like that who inspire Koomen and give him the push to keep going when times get tough.
Koomen says during a recent training session – a 180 km cycle in and around Vancouver – he and his fellow cyclists were forced to ride through extreme rain. During a pit stop the crew met a woman battling breast cancer, who has gone through surgery and several rounds of treatment.
“It reminds you of why you’re doing such a long day of cycling and you realize it’s not as bad as what she was going through,” Koomen says.
It’s those personal stories that are the toughest part of the Ride2Survive, says Koomen.
“The hardest part – and everybody talks about it – is not the ride itself, but the night before,” Koomen says. “Everybody introduces themselves and you have to tell who you’re riding for. It gets so emotional. There’s people who have lost their child, their mother, their father, their brother, their sister.”
Koomen’s wife, Jannie, who will be volunteering with the food crew as part of the Ride2Survive, says it’s stories like that that make you realize cancer’s far-reaching impacts.
“It doesn’t matter who you talk to, they’re someone who has had cancer or they know someone who died from cancer or who’s a surviver,” she says.
Koomen says one of the best parts of the Ride2Survive, which includes 11 10 to 15 minute pit stops, is the final leg of the journey.
As the ride comes into Delta, the cancer survivors (who don yellow jerseys) ride in the front of the pack.
“All the friends and family come out to greet them, the pipe band is playing, there’s cheering,” Koomen says.
It’s those type of moments, he says, that make the trip worth it.
Plus, it’s for a good cause.
“All of the money we raise goes directly to the Cancer Society,” says Koomen.
The event has raised roughly $4.5 million since it was first established and Koomen and Jannie have raised a combined $20,000 over the years through the Ride2Survive.
This year alone, Koomen has raised about $4,000 (89 per cent of his goal) through donations from his co-workers and company connections and from the sale of raffle tickets and coupon books which he sold going door-to-door.
“This whole neighbourhood sponsors me,” Koomen says of his Willow Point neighbourhood.
But he’s not done. Koomen is still welcoming donations in support of his ride.
Anyone who would like to donate can do so by going online to: ride2survive.ca then clicking on Donor Info, then Donate Now and filling in Jacob Koomen in the search box.