Campbell River’s Jacob Koomen has just returned from yet another long bike ride to help the fight against cancer where he rode from Kelowna to Delta in one push. That’s about 400 km.
For comparison, the longest stage of this year’s Tour de France – considered by many to be one of the most physically grueling bike races in the world – is 230 km. Two of the stages are under 30 km. Most days are somewhere between 120 and 190 km.
And this year was the seventh time the 71 year-old has done the Kelowna to Delta event – called the Ride To Survive (R2S) – which has raised over $8 million for cancer research over the 15 years it’s been put on.
Back in 2017, Koomen skipped the 400-km event to ride across Canada instead.
Unfortunately, his seventh time doing the 400-km R2S was also his last. But it’s not because he’s too old or just doesn’t want to do it anymore.
“It’s not only my last one,” he says. “They’re just not doing the 400 km one anymore. It was decided around the end of last year, so we knew going into this year’s that it was going to be our last. The couple who has been putting it on for the past 15 years has three daughters, three grandchildren and another two on the way, so you could say they’re pretty busy. And they figured, you know, they’ve been doing it for 15 years, we’ve raised over $8 million in that time. I think they did the right thing ending it on a high note rather than maybe having to do it because enrollment declined or whatever.”
One positive about knowing in advance that the ride was ending, Koomen says, is that it spurred a lot of former riders to come back and do it one last time, or convince some first-timers to get registered, because they wouldn’t be getting another chance to help out.
“This time, instead of having maybe 90 or 100 riders, we had about 150, because people knew it was the last one,” Koomen says. “I saw some pictures that were taken of us coming over the Coquihalla, and it was a big long train of bikes. It was beautiful.”
It was also one of the most difficult, he says. The addition of so many more riders than usual – many of which were first-timers – and “a lot of headwind,” Koomen says, meant this year’s ride took about 21 hours.
“We get up at 1:30 a.m. and we have breakfast and then at 3:30 we get on the bike,” Koomen says. “Normally we get into Delta well before midnight, but this year we pulled in about 12:15.”
They don’t ride straight through, obviously, but their breaks also aren’t as long as you might think.
“The short ones are about 10 minutes,” Koomen says. “You pretty much have to hop off the bike, use the bathroom if you need to or change your clothes or whatever, and then, bang, you gotta get going again. The longer ones are about 40 minutes, and there are two of those – one in Merritt and one in Hope – so you can actually sit down for a few minutes and eat something.”
But just because he won’t be doing the R2S anymore, doesn’t mean we’ve heard the last of Koomen and his fundraising efforts. He just doesn’t know what the next initiative will be yet.
“Well, I love cycling and there are all kinds of rides,” he says. “There’s cycling for MS, there’s cycling for the Canadian Lung Association, there are other cancer rides. I’ll hook up with someone.”
And whoever he decides to join up with will be in luck. He’s gotten very good at raising money over the years.
He raised almost $8,500 for this year’s R2S, bringing his eight year total to over $65,000.
For anyone interested in helping his efforts, his annual fundraising page for R2S and the Canadian Cancer Society is still open at convio.cancer.ca/goto/jacobjannie where you can contribute to the cause.
“The community here has been so great and really, really supportive,” he says. “I really want to just thank everyone who has helped me out over the years.”