Conquering hills on the road and in life 0
Miles of pavement slipped under her wheels, taking her closer to her goal in Niagara Falls.
But Lee Pettersen had a little more to conquer this past weekend than just the hills along the 200-kilometre stretch between the Toronto starting line of the Ride to Conquer Cancer, and the finish at the Falls. She finished her third round of chemotherapy only two weeks previous to hopping on the bike and doing the ride for the second time in two years.
Her first time on the ride -- a fundraiser for Princess Margaret Hospital -- was a "life-altering" experience. For years, she says, she was the wife who drove the kids to their sporting events; her husband, Leif, who died suddenly last July, was a former Saskatchewan Roughrider.
"All of a sudden, I was doing a sport," said Pettersen, who was part of the Cycling for the Cure team, a group of local riders who raised more than $145,000 this year.
It was life-altering well beyond the standpoint of suddenly taking up the sport of cycling. Along that 2008 ride, she met hundreds of people: young and old, some who were cancer survivors, some who were riding for someone who had cancer.
She signed up for the 2009 ride--not knowing that by March, she would find herself diagnosed with ovarian cancer.
"Suddenly, I'm on the other side of the firing line," she said. "I wasn't just raising money for 'them', I was also raising money for me... and the ride took on a whole new meaning."
On April 1, she had surgery at Princess Margaret, and spent 18 days in hospital. Her last round of chemo ended on June 2.
"I didn't know if I would even get back on the bike, much less do the ride," she said. "But then one day, I woke up and had a good day, and I got on the bike."
That day, she rode around Blue Mountain; the next day she rode to Collingwood and the day after that, to Nottawa. Riding her bike made her feel better, and hungrier; she ate better and went into meals hungrier, something that's usually a challenge for people going through chemotherapy treatments.
She was ready for her second ride to Conquer Cancer.
Her sister and a friend from New Zealand organized a support vehicle for her, just in case the ride became too much for her to handle. On the first day, "I thought about the hills," and stopped briefly after the first 50 km.
But she still felt good, "so I got out and did the hills."
It was during an ascent up a particularly long and difficult hill that she almost threw in the towel for the day, had it not been for fellow team member and cancer survivor Doug Palmer.
"He just put his hand on my back and helped me up every hill," she said. "And on the second day, he rode beside me, told me to just keep my head down and count down the kilometres."
And at the end of the two-day, 200-km event, Pettersen was able to lead her team over the finish line at Niagara Falls.
"It was really an incredible, emotional experience," she said, noting both the start and finish of the ride are emotional, with hundreds of cyclists in yellow Ride to Conquer Cancer jerseys, and thousands of supporters cheering them on.
She emphasizes it's not just about her. That $145,000 was raised by a dedicated group of 33 people in the community.
"We didn't have sponsorship -- there's a lot of $20s and $50s in there," she said. "Everybody worked hard to get donations, and this represents a lot of people in the community."
Team captain Sid Dickinson said the ride has beena great confidence builder for Pettersen.
"I think up until last year, when I talked her into doing the ride, she probably hadn't ridden more than a couple of times in her life," said Dickinson, noting in the two years, the team has raised more than a quarter-million dollars for Princess Margaret.
"It was tremendous to see her out on the weekend," said Dickinson. "It's a great event, emotional, outstanding, and I would encourage more people from the area to take part."
Pettersen is modest about what she's been able to accomplish.
"I passed lots of people who have had bigger hills to climb than I did," she said.
"I'm not a survivor," she said with a laugh. "Yet..."