Finding Strength in Numbers
/ Author: Daniel VanKeeken
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Finding Strength in Numbers

The lessons learned through team sports can—and should—be applied to life at large

By Dan VanKeeken, CLAC Foundation Program Manager

I was feeling good, working hard, pedalling like never before, and sweating and enjoying every kilometre and hill. 

We were halfway through the second sunny day of my third Ride to Conquer Cancer, a two-day event where thousands of cyclists raise money for research and treatment. I was proud to be among the fastest three people on my 20-person team.

The team member I was cycling with—who happened to be younger, fitter, and faster than I—turned and went to check on some of our slower members in the back. That’s when it struck me: I had turned a fundraising team event into an individual time trial and had lost track of what the ride was about.

What my teammate did was true leadership, and his actions reflected true teamwork. I felt selfish, so I backed off and rejoined the team.

Since then, I have completed three more of these annual charity rides and have taken the time to reflect on the many lessons I have learned in the saddle. Having never played more than shinny hockey, these lessons came to me much later in life than for those whose youth was filled with team sports.

Lesson 1: Together When It Matters

As a cycling team, we always start and end each 240-kilometre, two-day ride together. We might scatter during the day, but we regroup at lunch and check in with each other constantly. On the second day, we stop short of the finish line until everyone is accounted for so that we can ride across together. 

Lesson 2: All Are Needed

Each of us brings different strengths and skills to the team, and all are needed and appreciated. As a group, we make room for each other and encourage every member.

Lesson 3: Preparation Matters

My teammates come from vastly different locations, so for most of the year we have to train alone. But train we do, and hard, to reduce the pain and stress we know we will experience over those two intense days.

Lesson 4: Attitude Matters

When training for the race, mental and emotional strength and maturity are as important as putting in the road miles. Over these two-day events, we meet many people who are living with or have survived cancer, and even more who have lost family and friends to the disease. 

We never talk about it on the road but between days of riding we hear stories at camp. Some years the stories are tough to hear, and it is okay to either leave the pack and be on our own, or stay and encourage the others.

Lesson 5: Teamwork Matters

In the ongoing struggle to find a cure for cancer and improve the lives of people living with it—including several of our amazing teammates—the most important thing is the reality that all 2,500 of us pedalling our hearts out are in it together. Such focus. Such teamwork. Such caring.

So should it be with the pandemic we are living through. Some of us are coping better than others—financially, emotionally, mentally, spiritually. It’s up to us to be there for each other, to do what we can for those in our lives at home and at work, and to not simply try to get to the finish line first, alone.

We’re all in this together, though not all of us are in the same boat—instead of a dingy, some have only a leaky air mattress. 

Let’s not leave each other behind. Let’s continue to encourage each other. Let’s help those with fewer resources and less resilience than ourselves, at work, in our families, and in the wider community.

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