From intensive care to bike marathon

Just three years ago Jannie was lying in intensive care in Victoria, with a marathon bike ride the furthest thing from her mind.

Jannie Koomen feels lucky to be walking.

It’s a miracle she can ride a bike all the way to Seattle.

Jannie, along with her husband Jacob, will be riding from Vancouver to Seattle this summer in this year’s Enbridge Ride to Conquer Cancer.

Just three years ago Jannie was lying in intensive care in Victoria, with a marathon bike ride the furthest thing from her mind.

“I’m lucky to be alive,” says Jannie who suffered a major cycling accident while on her way with Jacob to visit friends on Cortes Island.

As fate would have it, the couple planned to take their tandem bike over to the island but the morning of their trip, Jacob went to the garage only to discover it had two broken spokes and they were forced to take separate bikes.

Unfamiliar with the terrain on Cortes, Jannie was going way too fast down hill when she failed to navigate a steep corner. Her bike hit a log and came to an abrupt stop but Jannie didn’t.

She flew off her bike into the woods where she landed hard on all fours and then rolled, striking her head on a rock. She suffered a broken spine, two broken arms and a minor brain injury.

“The first thing the doctor said was if I wasn’t wearing a helmet I wouldn’t be alive,” says Jannie.

It took her almost a year to get back on a bike.

Now, aside from the occasional sore back, Jannie is fully recovered and ready to tackle the Ride to Conquer Cancer June 18-19, for the second time in as many years.

Jannie will be riding with Jacob on the tandem bike they have dubbed Spirit Rider.

Jannie, who runs her own porcelain doll making business out of her home studio, saw her brother die from cancer at the age of 59 in 2006.

Jacob, meanwhile, saw two co-workers  lose their battles with cancer within months of each other last year.

“We have a pack that sits at the back of our bike and we say all the spirits are in there,” says Jannie. “It’s full of spirits, they ride with us.”

The ride, which is 260 kilometres long, is an initiative of the BC Cancer Agency to support cancer research. It raised $6.9 million in its first year and $9.6 million in its second year. Jacob says the race is growing and they hope to top that total this year. In order to participate, Jacob and Jannie need to raise a minimum of $5,000.

They are holding a dance with musical group Ten Times Bigger on Saturday, March 26 at the Legion Hall. Doors open at 7 p.m. and the show begins at 8 p.m. Tickets are $15 at the Music Plant and Balloons N More Party Shop.

For Jacob this will be his third year participating in the ride. In 2009 he had to ride alone because Jannie, who volunteered to provide medical support, was still recuperating from the accident.

He says the best thing about the ride is getting to share his passion for cycling with his wife.

“I love riding my bike. I step on my bike and sometimes ride to Nanaimo,” says Jacob. “The best part is we do it together on the tandem. Ever since the accident I’ve always been worried about Jannie and this way I know where she’s at and I can talk to her.”

Jannie says she enjoys the camaraderie shared between the cyclists.

“Everybody’s doing the same thing and it’s nice to talk to people and find out their stories,” she says.

At the end of the race, there is a celebration ceremony at the University of Washington.

“It’s like finishing a major cycling event,” says Jacob.

“A loud speaker announces your name and thousands of people are waiting and cheering you on with signs and Canadian flags.”