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The Sears National Kids Cancer Ride peddled into Stratford during its cross-Canada trek on Saturday, Sept. 14.
The fundraiser for children's cancer research and treatment is in the process of completing its sixth annual ride.
Participants are split into two groups and collectively bicycle across Canada from Vancouver to Halifax. The group in Stratford ended its day after beginning in Sarnia, while the other group of riders trekked across the northern half of the province.
Cyclist Joshua Van Dyk, a Woodstock native who spent two years playing hockey in Stratford, was one of the Stratford Sears location's sponsored riders. After his brother died from cancer five years ago, Van Dyk has participated in the event annually in his memory.
Van Dyk said this particular cause stands out amongst others.
"One-hundred per cent of the proceeds go to the families and research," he noted. "It's that 100 per cent model that makes it so special."
This year, Van Dyk and his family raised $33,000 for the charity.
Typically, riders contribute $3,000 towards the cause, with Sears Canada footing the rest of the bill, housing and feeding the cyclists along their way. The ride also collects donations raised at the various Sears outlets. So far, the Kids Cancer Ride has raised over $7 million in the fight against cancer, with this year's total expected to be over $1.3 million.
The Stratford stop happened to coincide with the local Sears store's 60th anniversary – especially notable as it was the first Sears location in Canada.
Originally a Simpsons catalogue outlet when it opened in 1938, the store adopted the Sears name after Simpsons merged with Sears, Roebuck and Co. from the United States in 1952. The store operated under the name of Simpsons-Sears at 50 Wellington St. until 1962, when the store closed and the catalogue agency relocated to 123 Ontario St. In 1989, the current Sears location opened at Festival Marketplace Mall.
The mall was one of the supporters thanked by Sears Canada CEO Calvin McDonald, along with the Stratford YMCA, who provided the cyclists with much-needed showers. McDonald had been riding with the group since Regina, Saskatchewan, and said that the weather in Stratford had been the nicest they've been through since the prairies.
"We've been through every kind of weather imaginable," he said. "When we were riding through the north, it was pouring rain. It was five degrees in Regina, rainy and cold."
MacDonald said that every cyclist, 38 in total, has been personally touched by cancer, either through a loved one or through their own experiences. He lifted up his sleeve to show a collection of colorful rubber bracelets given to him at various stops, each in memory of a different child lost to cancer.
"It's a physical, emotional journey," he said. "Sears is very proud to be a part of it."
That night, the cyclists hitched a ride by truck to Brantford, where they were met by 500 tag-along riders who rode with them into Yonge and Dundas Square in Toronto.