For Joseph Giordano, taking part in the 2017 Ride to Conquer Cancer was about commitment and closure. The 33-year-old Prince Rupert electrician was committing himself to the task of completing a physical challenge and following in his father’s footsteps, and he was finally participating in the race he had thought about riding with his dad for years.
“I totally felt like he was with me the whole time,” said Giordano, speaking of his father Sandy Giordano. “It felt like the whole reason we had the great weather we had was because he was watching over us.”
Giordano competed in the Ride to Conquer Cancer Aug. 26 and 27. The annual fundraising and awareness campaign brings thousands of riders from western Canada together where they ride for two days from Langley, B.C., crossing over the U.S. border before finishing in Redmond in Washington state. Teams of riders raise funds throughout the year to take part in the ride, and this year, Prince Rupert’s 11-person team raised $41,000 for the event.
“When you leave the starting gate, the amount of bikes you see for miles on end, it’s just solid bikes,” Giordano said. “It’s just an unreal experience. It’s just amazing.”
Joseph’s father Sandy — who was a fixture of the Prince Rupert team having participated in the ride since 2012 — passed away in March 2017 after battling cancer for over 10 years. He was a beloved teammate and staunch supporter of the movement, and 2017 would have been the 6th year he was taking part.
“We really missed him this year,” said Prince Rupert’s team captain Steve Weir. “I don’t know if I ever found someone who would say something bad about Sandy.”
The last time Sandy rode in the event was 2015. Weir says Sandy was pretty sure it was going to be his last ride, and when he reached the end of the race, all the members of Prince Rupert’s team got off their bikes and crossed the finish line together. They also shared Sandy’s favourite cookies – oatmeal chocolate chip – together.
“We crossed the finish line together, had a cookie and then we shared a hug,” said Weir. “It was an emotional moment.”
While his father was still alive, Joseph said they had talked about completing the ride together for years, but he had never been able to complete the training or get into the mental head space necessary to complete a ride of that magnitude.
“There’s a lot of times where I though, why didn’t I do it earlier,” he said. “Why didn’t I buckle down.”
Not getting to do the ride with his dad was something Joseph said he regrets, and he says he encourages his friends to spend time with their loved ones while they still have opportunities to.
“Life’s too short to live with regrets,” he said. “Don’t put stuff off to the side because you don’t know if you have the time to do it.”
Two years later, Joseph said knowing that his father had ridden along the same trail as him, provided him with motivation to keep pushing forward in the race no matter how tired he got.
“There were couple of spots where I thought about getting picked up,” he said. “But my old man fought cancer, so what was the point of giving up on the ride.”
Joseph added that while the ride was tough, being surrounded by people who had experienced similar things was uplifting.
“It’s very supporting, there are a lot of people who are fighting cancer, and there are a lot of people who have been there who know what’s going on,” he said.
Joseph’s mother was waiting for him at the finish line with a hug, and, of course, a batch of home baked oatmeal chocolate chip cookies.
“Seeing her, it was just very emotional crossing that finish line,” he said. “It was cheers to dad for the cookies.”
Heading into the ride, Joseph said he was not sure whether it was something he would continue doing, but after crossing the finish line and hugging Weir in the same spot where Weir hugged his father two years earlier, he says he has no doubts about what he will do in the future.
“I totally see myself doing the ride every year,” he said. “It’s a very emotional and very uplifting thing. There’s a lot of support and a lot of encouragement.”