by Janie Brown

I was never much one for team sports.  Egg and spoon races, three-legged races and sack races when I was in elementary school made me anxious. I only ever won the little red or blue ribbons tied to a safety pin for effort, never for winning first, second or third place. I didn’t relate much to competition—probably because I never felt the glory of winning—but I did love having fun with friends. 

photo by Janie Brown / click to enlarge

So when Philip Ho Fai Lee and Rima Andre of our young adult cancer group suggested we pull together a Callanish cycling team to cycle 122 kilometres from Vancouver to Whistler in the annual Gran Fondo cycling event, to raise funds for Callanish, I wholeheartedly encouraged them. The fact that they were both dealing with Stage IV cancer, and on chemotherapy at the time didn’t seem to deter them from choosing to ride.

“What about you?” they both asked.

Excuses rolled off my tongue, “I don’t ride a road bike. I am too old. I’m too busy to train. You’ve got to be kidding me, ride those hills to Whistler!”  Seventeen hundred meters of elevation in seven hours or more with a team of competitors was not my idea of fun. In fact, it totally terrified me.

That night I slept on their question, and when I woke the next morning, I heard my inner voice (the voice that usually tells me the truth) whisper that I should try. If you are fortunate to have your health, then use it for good, the voice said.  

I thought about the worst things that might happen: the race marshals would have to pick up my exhausted body in their van at some point along the ride, my bicycle would propel me out of control over a barricade towards the freezing water of the Howe Sound, or I wouldn’t even make it up the first hill, Taylor Way, and have to turn back, humiliated!

In the end, I surrendered to the challenge. After all, I didn’t really have a good enough excuse.

I bought a road bike. I learned to clip my feet into the pedals, and I eventually dared to take one hand off the handlebars to take a sip of water from my water bottle. I cycled over the Lion’s Gate Bridge without veering over the edge. I began to enjoy the camaraderie of the team and my improving fitness.

Six months of training with my twenty-nine teammates started to give me calf muscles and a cyclist’s tan to just above the knees and an interest in cycling magazines. I began to look forward to the twice weekly training rides. 

Crossing the Finish Line was one of the highlights of my life. Stepping out of my comfort zone, facing my fears, disciplining myself to grow stronger physically and mentally were life skills I learned from my two brilliant mentors, Rima and Philip. I will be forever grateful to them for challenging me and my perceived limitations, and for supporting me every step of the way to becoming a ‘sort-of’ team sport person.  

Callanish now has a weekly recreational cycling group for people who want to reclaim their bodies during cancer treatment, or after treatment, or for those who have never felt they could claim a sport as their own. 


Janie Brown is the Executive Director and co-founder of Callanish. She has worked with people with cancer and their families for over 30 years, including several years as a clinical nurse specialist at the BC Cancer Agency and over 20 years in her oncology counselling practice. She also writes for her blog www.lifeindeath.org.