Rebecca Nicol is an avid mountain biker. Photo by Lorenz Jimenez

Rebecca Nicol is an avid mountain biker. Photo by Lorenz Jimenez

Comox Valley cancer survivor says mountain biking ‘literally saved my life’

Mountain Biking is a popular sport and pastime in the Comox Valley, but for Rebecca Nicol it’s more than that.

“Mountain biking literally saved my life,” said Nicol who is originally from North Vancouver and left five years ago. Her family is originally from the Island though, so she spent a lot of her “formative” years on the Island in Lantzville.

“I figured I would always end up back on the Island,” she said.

She said the community in the Valley was amazing from the start. In 2018, Nicol was in a mountain biking accident that lacerated her liver.

“I was so new I had only been here for a couple of months and just the number of people that were offering to have a place for my husband to stay while I was at the hospital in Victoria, and coming by to make sure I was okay, and dropping off goodies – it was a completely different community here,” said Nicol. “So I always knew that I wanted to do something to give back to the community.”

Nicol has worked as a mountain bike coach in the community previously, spending some time working with Gravity MTB. In January 2020, Nicol held a Pinkbike Share the Ride event at Arden Elementary where 14 children were gifted new bikes, helmets and coaching thanks to community donations and sponsorships.

Nicol then started the non-profit, Spread the Stoke, just over a year ago, which aims to make the sport accessible to all youth.

“The mission was to get funds for mountain biking equipment and coaching for lower-income families,” said Nicol. “I don’t think a kid should have to suffer because of the situation that their parents are in. All children deserve the same access.”

Nicol didn’t start mountain biking until she was 30.

She grew up in low-income housing in North Vancouver and never had a bike of her own. But she said coaching and volunteering in the community showed her how inaccessible the sport can be.

“Just seeing the unnecessary divide between those who can afford to be a part of the sport and those who can’t,” said Nicol. “There’s so many people who would benefit from having the ability or access to cycling, whether it be mountain biking or BMXing or even just a road bike.”

She said cycling can be beneficial mentally, and is the kind of sport that can be done anytime and anywhere – with or without other people.

“In my opinion, it is the greatest thing for mental health because it’s physical, it’s empowering and it gets you into nature,” Nicol said.

In October 2021, Nicol started getting tested and was diagnosed with breast cancer earlier this year, which meant she had to put all of her plans for the non-profit in 2022 on hold.

“I had a lumpectomy in March and I was told that I would have to have treatment immediately,” she said. “I had to cancel everything for the summer and the spring, all the programs and everything.”

On June 4, Nicol competed in an all-women’s enduro race in Cumberland, and on June 15 she had a double mastectomy, which meant she couldn’t ride for a while. She is now in remission.

This isn’t the first battle with cancer that Nicol has had – she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer when she was 30. It was this diagnosis, and the severe struggles with her mental health, that led her to mountain biking.

“I was really depressed, I was spending a lot of time living with a friend who was into mountain biking,” said Nicol. “And he’s like ‘come ride with me, take my wife’s bike, come and ride with me.’”

Nicol took her first ride on a trail in North Vancouver and “fell in love immediately.”

After 12 weeks of recovering from surgery and being in remission, Nicol said she has been riding non-stop.

“As soon as I was allowed to start riding again, damn straight I was out there riding again,” Nicol said, adding that she’s been riding every single day to make up for all the time she couldn’t.

Nicol said she’s got more plans for 2023, starting with finding one or two new board members to join Spread the Stoke and help it grow even more.

Jasper Myers is a freelance writer for the Comox Valley Record and Trio Magazine

CancerComox ValleyMountain biking

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