What goes through your mind when you step onto a dance floor? Perhaps you’re thinking of flawlessly performing a new step or routine you’ve been working on, or winning a competition, or gaining a new title. For kids fighting with cancer, the big goal ahead of them each day might be to wake up tomorrow morning.

Update June 29, 2017: I’m so appreciative of the gracious help of so many donors in supporting the Great Cycle Challenge this year. You inspired me as I rode, making it seem easy to ride so much during the month of June. Through your donations, we raised $2,657.89, exceeding my goal! The total campaign raised nearly $2 million. I had set a ride goal of 750km and wasn’t sure if I could put in that much time due to my busy schedule but was able to ride 759.4km. I thought that was a fair number but I was put to shame when I reviewed the leaderboard and saw that I was only about 70th in total distance, as a great many people rode thousands of km during June. Well done!

During the month of June, I’m cycling 750km as part of the Great Cycle Challenge to raise funds for the SickKids Foundation and Toronto’s SickKids Hospital. This hospital has a long history of helping kids with cancer get through their disease. The Challenge is a fund-raising effort that lets you ride your bicycle as much as you like over the entire month of June. Each person involved sets their own goal. This year, over 10,000 people across the country are involved. More then $1 million has already been raised just a few days into June and the goal is to exceed $2 million by month’s end.

A charity worth supporting

The Hospital for Sick Children, now known as SickKids Hospital, opened its doors way back in 1875 and has been fighting a battle to give hope to children and their families ever since. In 1908, the forward-thinking Hospital staff insisted that a milk pasteurization plant be installed onsite, to prevent the spread of disease through contaminated milk, 30 years before pasteurization became mandatory across the nation. In 1920 the Hospital pioneered blood transfusions for children. Pablum, the low-cost, quick-to-prepare, nutrient-enriched cereal was introduced here in 1930, another of Canada’s gifts to the world. In 1976 this Hospital pioneered bone marrow transplants. In 2009, they introduced the world’s first cardiac surgery in utero, saving kids who have not been born. And this pioneering spirit continues. Just three years ago SickKids Hospital performed North America’s first incisionless bone tumour surgery, removing cancerous tumours in bone without aid of a scalpel.

Just three years ago SickKids Hospital performed North America’s first incisionless bone tumour surgery, removing cancerous tumours in bone without aid of a scalpel.

Giving hope to kids

Cancer is the largest killer of children from disease in Canada. Over 1,400 Canadian children are diagnosed with cancer every year. These kids have the potential to be business owners, leaders, teachers, trades people, artists and dancers, yet they are struggling just to get through the next days, weeks or months because of their disease. I’m riding to help give them hope.

Great Cycle Challenge kids, our inspiration for charityOwen is 13 years old and was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia 4 years ago. In Feb last year, after 682 days of chemotherapy and 89 nights in hospital, Owen’s treatment was complete and he was cancer-free. But just 2 months ago, his family received heart-breaking news, Owen had relapsed. Right now, this brave young man is spending most of his days in hospital receiving intensive chemotherapy to get him ready for a bone marrow transplant, but he always has a huge smile on his face.

4-year-old Eliza was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia just 10 months ago. This gorgeous girl began chemotherapy immediately. It was hard on her little body as her treatment caused hair loss, fatigue, pain, weakness and she’s had to be admitted to hospital several times for infections, but Eliza refuses to give up!

9-year-old Neave was diagnosed with Ewings sarcoma last July, and since then she’s endured 58 chemotherapy treatments, 10 transfusions, 28 continuous days of radiation therapy and a 19-hour surgery. But none of that will stop her! Neave set herself a goal to ride 30km and she’s already raised $1,780 to help other kids fighting cancer who can’t ride for themselves!

3-year-old Poppy was diagnosed with High Risk Stage 4 Neuroblastoma just 15 months ago and has endured 6 rounds of chemotherapy, major surgery and a bone marrow transplant. Just 4 months ago, she relapsed and has since endured another 5 treatments of chemotherapy alongside immunotherapy. Poppy was admitted to hospital last week for her 6th treatment. She’s a real fighter.

These kids are brave. They deserve a bright future, full of potential and wonder. When my butt starts to hurt after 30km or so, I think of how much it must hurt Owen to get those needles constantly. When I feel exhausted, I think of how Eliza or Poppy must feel after chemotherapy.

The dance community has lost a lot of great people to cancer in just the past few months. Chances are you’ve lost someone close to you through this disease, as have I. My thoughts often go to figures in the dance community like Tanya Cardinal, Betty Rutter, Theo Peters, Yoko Kanai and others. Even today, Calgary’s Eric Caty is fighting for his life. I can’t even imagine what it’s like to try and keep your positive energy up when going through those treatments. It’s important that we do something to help eradicate cancer, whether it’s raising funds, giving funds, or helping those going through the disease. I’m pushing myself physically to help give hope to kids struggling through cancer. Who knows how many of these brave kids might help change the world once they are free of the disease?

To achieve my goal, I have to ride an average of 25km every day. The weather won’t always cooperate here in Vancouver so when it rains I’ll mount my road bike on my stationery trainer to put in the miles. It won’t be easy because of our very busy schedule. There are days when I leave home at 6:00am and don’t return until after teaching at around 9:00pm. Those days won’t allow a bike ride to happen at all so that adds additional length to the next ride in order to meet my goal.

Cycling for dancers

Cycling can be scary for a dancer, but it’s also a good form of exercise for those involved in dance. Cycling strengthens the quads and glutes, as well as hamstrings and calves, all good muscles for dancers to work on. Best of all, it builds stamina, an essential component for ballroom dancing.

It’s scary because of the potential for injury. Of course, one might say that about any sport, but I’ve had my share of accidents and close calls. Just six weeks before my very first dance competition, a drunk driver failed to navigate a bend I was riding through. Even though I was well into the sidewalk area, he hit me, fracturing my pelvis. I was still able to dance the event a month and a half later, but it demonstrated how fragile we are on a bike. I’ve seen people run red lights right in front of me, had drivers try to force me off the road, had car doors open in front of me and dealt with idiots who don’t know how to share the road. Cyclists need to have their situational awareness tuned to 150% every moment they’re riding to stay safe.

There’s also the physical challenge. As we get older, we realize we can’t do what the body used to be able to do. Average speeds aren’t what they were years ago. My mind thinks I can but the body won’t cooperate. So I’m becoming aware that there’s a huge value in doing this kind of additional cross training to keep the body in shape for dance. Through active cycling and regular workouts in the gym, I can stay at least somewhat competitive with teachers half my age.

Riding every day is hard. I don’t know how pro riders do it. After 35km you notice just how much your butt hurts. You wonder if you’ll be able to push through the next sprint in anywhere close to your personal best speed. When there’s a strong headwind it’s tedious just trying to move forward, watching your speed plunge to jogging pace while your muscles burn. After 40km your hands ache from pressing against the handle bars and often your back hurts too. But when I start feeling those things I think of the kids and what they go through every day and it helps put things in perspective.

Please help support my effort. I’m trying to raise a total of $2,500. You can donate online here

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A look at one of the longer Richmond routes I like to take out to Iona Park just past Vancouver International Airport. On windy days it’s a grueling ride that takes almost 2 hours. View the route here

Author George Pytlik

Before turning pro, George achieved impressive results as an amateur competitor, holding the 35+ Latin championship in BC, Canada for 7 consecutive years with his wife Wendy. The couple twice achieved a top-3 Canadian ranking in senior Latin as well as a 3rd place Canadian ranking in senior 1 Ten Dance. Today, George and Wendy teach with a vision of growing a strong dance community in Delta near Vancouver, BC.

More posts by George Pytlik

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