Riding 240 kilometres is an achievement most cyclists would not forget.
For those riding in the annual Boomer’s Legacy Bike Ride, each kilometre covered is more than just a physical accomplishment, it’s an emotional one too.
“There’s emotional and physical satisfaction,” explains participant Greg Phelps.
“(One of my) most memorable moments – I can’t really talk about it – is putting the pictures (of soldiers) up at the end of the ride. It gets you,” he added, holding back tears.
Phelps has ridden in numerous Boomer’s Rides, an event created for Boomer’s Legacy, a foundation which helps military members help others.
The 100 per cent Canadian charitable organization was created in 2006 following the death of Cpl. Andrew (Boomer) Eykelenboom (son of Maureen Eykelenboom), who was killed in action in Spin Boldak, Afghanistan in August 2006.
In Boomer’s honour, the goal of the legacy is to empower all deployed Canadian Forces soldiers, sailors, airmen and airwomen with raised and donated funds, helping them to help others and provide much-needed humanitarian assistance to people wherever and whenever forces members are deployed.
Each participant in the Comox-to-Victoria ride — which takes place June 13 and 14 — makes a commitment to raise funds for the projects. The cyclists, escorted by volunteer RCMP officers, will commemorate the sacrifice of fallen soldiers with photos and bios of soldiers on their bicycles. The ride wraps up a day later at a welcoming ceremony in Victoria with a moving Ceremony for Fallen Soldiers.
“We include everybody (from 2002 to present); it’s not just those from Afghanistan,” Maureen Eykelenboom notes.
“That’s how we started it, but it’s those who have been killed in the line of duty are remembered. The ceremony at the end of the ride where every military member is put up on a wall and their name is read and it’s very emotional. That is key — that will always happen.
“It’s an honouring. You know for those other military members who were there and whose boots were on the ground, and they came home, they can at least know if they get called to go away again, and they don’t come home, we’re going to remember.”
One year, she recalls, she had one young soldier say to her: ‘They’re not going to remember me.’
“I just said, ‘I will.’ It’s hard for them. It’s very emotional.”
While funds go towards projects such as providing medical care, life-saving surgeries for children, and clothing and shoes for orphaned children, funds raised this year are helping those closer to home.
“It’s still Boomer’s Legacy, still a foundation, still helping out military members help others. Sometimes those others will be military members. The funds are always spent because a military member sees a need and requests funds,” she explains.
“This year’s bike ride is going to help Vancouver Island Compassion Dogs. It’s a program that just started over a year ago where they match a rescue dog and a veteran with PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder) and take them through a year-long training so that dog becomes an actual vested service dog.”
One of the riders last year is a serving member at CFB Comox – who wishes to remain anonymous – but has seen the direct effect a compassion dog can make in her life.
“I heard about (the program) through Maureen, and in my job in the military I actually treated several guys who had dogs from the program,” she says.
“I sort of saw the change in them, so through other CF members who had dogs I saw they were changing and how the dogs were improving their life, so when I had an opportunity to do it right away, I went for it.”
She adds not only does the training build the dog and veteran relationship, but it gets those suffering with PTSD into a routine.
“When you’re having a bad day, you still go, because it’s a group of people that you trust, and you’re accountable to … if you haven’t been leaving your house and doing things, you’ve got this commitment to spend about and hour to an hour-and-a-half with your dog every day where you’re walking and training.”
She adds she’s noticing changes every day working with her dog.
“I’m just out a lot more; I’m happy when I can bring the dog with me. It really helps to reduce the anxieties.”
Eykelenboom adds it brings tears to her eyes when she sees the compassion a dog has and how they can sense when their owner is going through living an experience.
“We need to support those vets. Those of us who have stayed here don’t understand what they saw and went through.”
While Eykelenboom won’t be participating in the ride this year (she will be participating in the Wounded Warriors ride in Europe), Phelps calls her their “perspirational leader,” and says it’s important to keep in mind the reasons for the ride.
“There’s an old cliche – freedom isn’t free.”
So many people take advantage of the freedom of living in Canada, notes Eykelenboom.
“We just think we deserve it. I’m sorry – we don’t. We have military members that keep it for us. That’s what that base does. When you see the Snowbirds and the F-18s and the glider pilots, you know, they’re training. And their bottom line – helping us keep the freedom that we have.”
For more information, to donate or participate in the ride, visit facebook.com/BoomersLegacy.