By Sophie Kneisel
For a CauseEngineering
Inspiration comes in many forms, and, as often as not, an unfortunate negative event will lead people to challenge themselves for a positive result. for Ron Grant, it was the deaths of his mother and ...
Inspiration comes in many forms, and, as often as not, an unfortunate negative event will lead people to challenge themselves for a positive result. for Ron Grant, it was the deaths of his mother and mother-in-law from cancer that prompted him to cross the country on a bicycle with a friend. Before he left on June 3, 2001, he was given two more reasons to raise awareness and funds for cancer research: an uncle and a very close friend also died of the disease.
“Neither one of us had been big bikers,” says Grant about himself and his fellow cyclist Richard Heatherington. That is something of an understatement. Grant had been a bicycle commuter for several years, but that was more than a decade before when he completed a 40-km round trip daily to his job at B.C.’s Ministry of Transportation in Victoria. The most recent biking experience of his friend and co-worker Heatherington had involved a bag full of newspapers. But it was Heatherington who said that he would like to ride across the country to promote awareness of the need for cancer research.
Eleven years later the two men, now over 60, covered the 7,650 kilometres from Victoria to St. John’s, Newfoundland in just under three months, averaging 100 kilometres a day (not including 14 rest days). They hoped the strain of the journey wouldn’t ruin their 35-year friendship, and even though Grant’s brand new bike had 10 flat tires, while Heatherington’s 10-year-old model had none, they remain close.
Grant studied transportation engineering at three schools. He didn’t complete a degree, but he put his knowledge to work at the Ministry of Transportation. His experience and contacts there led him to his current position in UMA Engineering in Victoria, where he helps municipalities secure provincial funding for infrastructure upgrades.
UMA played a major role in the success of the ride: aside from allowing Grant three months off to complete the trip and providing several stays in hotels across the country, the firm’s public relations staff alerted media in the area that the pair were riding through, and ensured that they met their goal of publicly exchanging city pins with the mayor of the capital city of each province. “I can’t say enough about UMA and their support,” Grant says. He estimates the ride raised more than $100,000, but says it was more about increasing awareness, which he feels it did very effectively.
Even during the worst day of the trip, when the bikers spent two hours shivering under their groundsheets during a downpour near Sault Ste. Marie in northern Ontario, Grant never regretted having taken on the challenge. With nothing more than a bag of cookies, some apple juice and water for sustenance, they spent the rest of the afternoon and that night in their wet tent.
Near Sudbury he was forced off the highway by a tractor-trailer, and he and his bike then flipped back onto the road. “I could see vehicles coming at me,” he says. “I couldn’t get my feet out of the pedals, so the crossbar had caught me on the femur.” Heatherington got Grant off the road, and he was taken to the hospital. He decided to carry on despite having been advised to elevate and rest his severely bruised leg, for a time pedalling with his good leg only.
“The trip was a real thrill, and I never considered it as work. It made me very proud to be Canadian,” he says, describing how kind and generous everyone was along the way.
“We have put on a lot of presentations since we got back,” Grant says. “It gives us the shivers when we realize what we did. If we can do it, anyone can do it.”