Whistlerite Aaron Mittler is no stranger to big climbs on a bike.
Every year for almost a decade, he has made the two-day trip heading “straight up the side of a mountain” from White Rock to Manning Park as part of GearUp4CF, the annual charity cycling event raising funds for Cystic Fibrosis (CF) Canada.
The second half of the route in particular “is a very difficult ride,” he said.
But when his breathing starts getting heavier, “nothing gives you inspiration like someone who’s riding it with a set of someone else’s lungs inside them,” he added. “They’ve had a lung transplant, and you’re sort of complaining and trying to get up the mountain and thinking about quitting, and you look over and see someone doing that and it’s like, ‘Well, I better get my act together.’”
Mittler always has another motivating factor getting him through the more gruelling parts of the ride, too: his nine-year-old daughter Lucy, who was diagnosed with the fatal genetic disorder as a newborn living in Ontario. The progressive condition primarily affects the lungs and the digestive system.
“No parent wants to get a call like that,” he said.
But the family was fortunately introduced to “an amazing team” at SickKids Hospital in Toronto, Mittler said, including a nurse practitioner, a doctor who is “one of the world’s leading researchers” for CF, a physiotherapist and a nutritionist.
“It was a bit overwhelming,” he said. “We went from very upset and devastated to quite optimistic and really sort of happy and grateful for the resources that we had living in Canada.”
Though Cystic Fibrosis does not currently have a cure, patient outcomes have “dramatically improved” in recent decades, due in part to Canadian research funded by CF Canada, Mittler explained.
“In the ’50s, kids with CF wouldn’t get to see kindergarten … The median age [expectancy] is now in the 50s, but there’s a high degree of variability,” said Mittler, adding that a large portion of CF patients still won’t make it to 30.
The GearUp4CF tradition began with “three intrepid friends” of Mittler’s immediately following Lucy’s diagnosis.
“Some friends of mine from Vancouver called me up and they said, ‘Listen, we want to do something, we looked up the local charity and we’re going to do a ride,’” he said. “It was really amazing—when something crummy happens to you, you sort of find out who your friends are. It was a really awesome moment for us.”
Mittler joined them the next year. Ahead of their 10th annual ride this year, the crew has grown to about 15 riders and has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for the foundation.
This year, team “Lycra for Lucy” has already surpassed its $15,000 fundraising goal, meaning the longtime crew will officially cross the $500,000-donated-to-date threshold when they set off from White Rock on June 25. (This year’s GearUp4CF event will be a one-day ride finishing in Chilliwack rather than Manning Park, due to highway damage that is still present following last year’s flooding.)
The annual ride “is sort of like my therapy and how I deal with the whole situation. It’s where I pour my energy and angst and anxiety about everything, is into doing this,” said Mittler. “It feels really good. It feels at least like I’m doing something to help a really difficult situation for Lucy.”
Those interested in contributing to Lycra For Lucy can find more info at cysticfibrosis.crowdchange.ca/2726/page/9516.