Her bedroom looked like any other child’s. There was a galaxy of stars dotting the ceiling, a mighty collection of stuffed animals, stacks of books and layers of jewellery.
It was summer and a pair of guests were in her room, visiting a sick little girl who didn’t have much time left.
Emma Smith asked the father to step out, she wanted to speak with his daughter.
Steve Robinson’s daughter Brooklyn still talks about that conversation – it was the last time they saw each other. Smith passed away four days later, the brain cancer had caught up. She was 12 years old.
Robinson says he never knew the extent of the girls’ talk.
“I never asked what they said back and forth. I had similar talks with Emma, so I had trust in the fact that it was meaningful,” he says to a room of Tour de Rock riders and supporters in Campbell River. “That talk, whatever it was, changed my daughter. Actually, changed is the wrong word. That talk made Brooklyn a more kind and caring and compassionate person than she already was. That was the magic of Emma.”
Robinson, a father of two, police officer, and Tour de Rock alumni, is a cancer survivor himself. As he addresses the room at Painters Lodge, he fights back tears.
“We know that our momentum is winning an uphill battle,” he says. “Children should be spoken of with bright futures, with laughter, with learning and with inspiration. Never in past tense.”
Smith, who died in 2016, was just one of the kids who continue to inspire the riders of the Tour de Rock, a cycling fundraiser that sees riders journey 1,100 km from Port Alice to Victoria each fall, stopping at communities along the way to raise funds for pediatric cancer research and support programs for kids with cancer, such as Camp Goodtimes.
Robinson speaks to this year’s riders — members of law enforcement, first responders — who moments before were welcomed to Painters Lodge in north Campbell River by the River Spirit Dragon Boat team and the Campbell River Storm. This year saw a change in the Campbell River program, with the team hosting events at Painters Lodge rather than their usual Spirit Square venue.
He addresses the room, full of tour supporters, and helps paint a picture of the cause they’re supporting. Over the last 22 years, Robinson says that 16,667 kids and their families have been sent to camp.
“We can’t save every child. We can’t take every parent’s nightmare and make them go away, but there is a place of salvation,” he says, “It’s a place of encouragement and of hope of safety, of answers, and of fun. And it’s called Camp Goodtimes.”
The riders sit at the front of the room, 19 people, who have dedicated their time to the tour. They listen to speeches, receive cheques, share hugs and spill tears.
“We create laughter and we create memories. We create hope. We will never stop fighting,” says Robinson.
The team had begun the day in Sayward and stopped for lunch at Dick’s Fish and Chips before touring some of the local schools. At Painters Lodge, they accepted cheques from a number of community groups and individuals including: Fire Services, the Campbell River Cops for Cancer Golf Tournament, Cups for Cancer, Ron’s Barbershop, the Storm, Ridge Riders, Shannon Marin and the Corrigall family. All told, the community raised more than $68,000 for Tour de Rock this year.
After all the presentations, it was finally time for junior riders Natalia, Annabel and mom Christy Corrigall to take the mic. The family has first-hand experience with fighting cancer and receiving support from the Tour de Rock team.
When Natalia was four, she was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia. Overnight she and her mom and dad were flown to the BC Children’s Hospital, where they’d spend months in a 9 by 9 room while Annabel was cared for by extended family at home.
Then, they discovered Camp Goodtimes. At first Corrigall was hesitant to leave the hospital, but then she embraced the opportunity for the family of four to be whole again.
“It’s a place where you get to go and you get to have fun. You get to play you, get to smile and laugh and have chemo. You get to swim and make race cars and dance and sing and put on puppet shows and take your pills, but you’re safe and you are doing things you’ve never done before: team building exercises, archery, all of these wild crazy things that kids dream of at summer camp,” she says. “It’s a place where we get to rest. That’s something that can’t be underestimated.”
This summer, her girls, now nine and 10, told their parents they wanted to start giving back, to help other kids go to camp. They “baked up a storm and made really delicious lemonade.” With their goodies ready, they went outside.
“We stood out on the corner where we live and stopped traffic,” says Corrigall.
And on Sept. 24, the girls presented their earnings to the Tour de Rock team. Their smiling young faces beamed from behind a comically large cheque decorated in coloured marker. They had raised $505.15.
“Tour de Rock has a momentum. It’s made of love. Love in the support in believing, love in the support of hope. Love in the idea of being together and standing up as one great group of people who believe in saying no to cancer,” says Corrigall. “It’s taken lives, but it can never take away the spirit.”
Tour de Rock started in Port Alice on Saturday and will end in Victoria on Oct. 4.
The ☀️ greeted Tour de Rock on 68 km ride to #CampbellRiver. Cheering students super-charged the team! Thank you to so many north-island sponsors! Excited to spend night with new friends @painterslodge & meet community at Burger N Beer Fundraiser #tourderock #forthekids pic.twitter.com/9FXZYwxvD4
— Tour de Rock (@TourdeRock) September 25, 2019