I interviewed Dara Sheridan, who is about to do the Ride to Conquer Cancer for the third time. The Ride to Conquer Cancer is an annual ride in which participants raise funds to support organizations that are advancing the fight against cancer. The Ride to Conquer Cancer in Ontario benefits the Princess Margaret Cancer Centre.
Joe: Will this be your first Ride to Conquer Cancer?
Dara: This will be my third year riding the two-day, 200+ km cycling journey from Toronto to Niagara Falls. I first signed up for the Ride to Conquer Cancer, benefiting Princess Margaret Cancer Centre, in 2016.
Joe: Where can we find your fundraising page?
My personal fundraising page for the Ride to Conquer is right here!
Joe: Please tell us about your reasons for doing The Ride to Conquer Cancer.
Dara: My cousin Ryan was diagnosed with stage IV esophageal cancer in November 2015. The news came as a huge shock as he was young, fit, and otherwise healthy. I wanted to do something to provide him encouragement while he battled. After a co-worker mentioned that our cycling team, “Paramedics for a Cure,” participate in the Ride to Conquer Cancer every year raising money to support cancer research and care, I joined the team for the 2016 event.
Exactly one month before I set off on the Ride, on May 11 2016, Ryan passed away. It was tremendously emotional, but cycling for two days provided me with time to try to work through my grief and come to terms with my new reality. The people I met and the stories I heard made me realize I was not alone. The decision to do the Ride to Conquer Cancer the following year, and again this year, was an easy one, because I feel like I am doing something positive in Ryan’s memory and continuing the fight against cancer that he began.
Joe: Could you tell us more about your late cousin, Ryan Stevenson?
Dara: Ryan and I were born 12 days apart into a large, close-kit family. We grew up more like siblings than cousins. We lived five minutes away from each other, went to the same schools and celebrated our birthdays together. We even both pursued careers in emergency services. Ryan was always active; going to the gym, playing hockey and golf, travelling with his girlfriend. He had such an optimistic outlook and was able to look at everything from a positive perspective. When he found out his diagnosis he took it on as a challenge with unwavering determination. He never complained while he received intensive chemotherapy treatments and he always had a smile on his face. His courage was nothing short of admirable.
Joe: I see that your are captain of “Team RyGuy, a group of likeminded supporters and thrivers.” What does the word “thriver” mean to you?
Dara: To me, “thriver” means when something or someone flourishes and succeeds in a challenging situation. I think everyone who participates in the Ride to Conquer Cancer is a thriver; for raising the money and for riding the distance. This year I am co-captain of “Team RyGuy,” a team we formed to honour Ryan. It is our inaugural year and we already have 30 members, all friends, family, and neighbours inspired by him. Our goal is to continue the fight Ryan began, to raise awareness and funds to support personalized cancer medicine. With the support of many generous people, we have collectively raised $120,000 for the Princess Margaret Cancer Center. I think we have exceeded even our own expectations in terms of our team growth and fundraising success.
Joe: How long have you been a cyclist?
Dara: Since February 2016! Cycling was new to me when I first signed up for The Ride; I didn’t even own a road bike. I questioned if I could actually make it all the way to Niagara, but when in doubt, Ryan’s strength and attitude inspired me to push onward with training. He provided me with encouragement while I did just that.
Joe: How are you training for The Ride to Conquer Cancer?
Dara: I have been attending spin classes throughout the winter months at Max Revolution. When the weather finally let up I began training outside on my road bike along many of the bike paths around Toronto including the Don River, Waterfront Trail, Leslie Spit and the Toronto Island. On top of cycling, maintaining a regular gym and yoga routine has helped prepare me physically.
Joe: How are you fundraising?
Dara: I wouldn’t be able to participate in The Ride year after year without the support of all those who donate and support me; friends, family, friends of family, co-workers, health clinics (dental, physiotherapy, chiropractic) and numerous others have been very generous. I’ve been involved in fundraising events throughout the year. My sister and I hosted a “Paint for the Cure” painting party which helped us raise over $500. Numerous members of Team RyGuy put together a Bake Sale on the Victoria Day long weekend and collectively raised over $600. Other members of the team organized a Garage Sale and made over $1,500, as well as a bowling night which brought in over $1,600. Plus some team members collected beer bottles from around their neighbourhood and put the proceeds towards their goal. On top of these events, we sought out corporate sponsorship. We had numerous corporations sponsoring our team including BGIS, Pacific Paving Ltd, Pinchin Ltd, The Olde Stone Cottage Pub, and The Stone Lion. We will proudly wear their logos on our team jersey’s during the Ride to thank them for their support.
Joe: Do you find it fun to prepare for The Ride to Conquer Cancer?
Dara: I do! It can feel like a daunting task to fundraise $2,500, but it forces you to get creative and think outside the box. I’ve been able to exceed the minimum fundraising amount 3 years in a row. Team fundraisers can be a lot of fun, you meet team members in a social setting, and you bond over the experience, so you feel like you’re not alone in this journey. Preparing for the ride also involves training for it; getting together to attend a spin class or ride around the city gets you active. If the preparation ever feels too difficult, you just have to remember why you signed up and who you are doing this Ride for, and you get the fire to continue. The Ride gives you something to look forward to year after year and it’s a great way to feel connected to a bigger cause while keeping the memory of those we’re riding for very much alive.
Joe: I see you are captain of a team that has raised an impressive amount of money. What is involved in being team captain? How do you like it?
Dara: There is a lot more involved in being a team captain than I expected! Organization is a necessity. Last summer I sat down with the other captains of Team RyGuy, and we created a plan for the year ahead; we brainstormed fundraiser ideas, created a sponsorship package, thought about corporations to reach out to, and encouraged people to join our team. Throughout the year I sent out monthly updates to the entire team to inform everyone about team challenges, Ride details and logistics, and encouraged everyone to continue with their fundraising and training. I gave updates on our fundraising progress as a whole, but also highlighted those who had achieved their personal fundraising goal or big milestones such as Ambassador status or Polka dot rider. I created a WhatsApp chat group for everyone on the team to communicate easily with one another, about plans for future fundraising events, spin classes, outdoor training rides and to provide encouragement to one another as we prepare for this event. I have enjoyed the challenge of being co-captain, I am very proud of our team and I look forward to doing it again next year.
Joe: What would you say to people who are contemplating doing The Ride to Conquer Cancer, but are too intimidated to try?
Dara: Do it! Everyone is intimidated signing up the first time, not knowing what to expect, not being an avid cyclist, not owning a bike … I know I was. But if 5,000 other people can do it, so can you. The experience is unreal and it’s something hard to explain to those who haven’t participated in the event. It’s more than a fundraiser; it is a weekend of healing and connecting. It is a union of likeminded people who have been affected by cancer but are filled with hope. We have a common goal of conquering cancer in our lifetime. You could be a part of that by joining The Ride.
Joe: What is your biggest challenge in doing The Ride to Conquer Cancer?
Dara: The biggest challenge is raising the money, but if you sign up early enough you have a full year to do so. Once that goal has been achieved, you only have to focus on training to cycle 200 km+! The main thing I stress to new members on our team who are concerned about riding that distance is that at the end of the day, it is a ride not a race. Everyone does their best. With the support of teammates, we all cross the finish line together, knowing we’ve done something amazing for a great cause. So we all win.
Joe: Thanks Dara, and all the best for the Ride!
If you want to learn more and support Dara and the fight against cancer, please check out Dara’s personal fund raising page here.
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