ON May 2, two University of Western Ontario students will have written their final exam and will begin a journey home to their native West Vancouver for summer break.
While hopping a plane is the obvious means of returning to the North Shore, the intrepid first-year business students Willy Konantz and Taylor Scholz (longtime best friends and Collingwood School grads) have something else in mind.
Inspired by Willy's father Don's March 2011 diagnosis with prostate cancer, the duo have created Gear West: Our Ride For Men, a fund-and awareness-raising initiative seeing them hop aboard bicycles and travel an average of 160 kilometres per day, six days a week (totaling more than 4,600 kilometres) for about a month, from their university town to their North Shore home.
Through their efforts, they hope to raise $50,000 for the Vancouver Prostate Centre, which is focused on improving longevity and quality of life for prostate cancer patients. The cancer facility operates a patient clinic and conducts research.
Willy is pleased with the opportunity to do something for Don, 49.
"When he got diagnosed with prostate cancer, there was nothing that I could really do," says Willy, 19. "I'm not a doctor, I don't have any capabilities except for comforting him and raising his spirits. So when Taylor and I thought of this it was kind of the best thing because I could actually do something for him and make him proud. This is the best way to raise his spirits I believe, so it means a lot to me. . . . He says he's very, very proud."
Willy and Taylor came up with the idea while biking to a party in West Vancouver near the end of their Grade 12 year. Don's recent diagnosis was weighing heavily on their minds and they were discussing fellow Collingwood grad, Riley Senft, a friend of Willy and his family's, who ran across Canada in 2011 as part of a fundraiser entitled Step Into Action. Senft raised more than half a million dollars for the Vancouver Prostate Centre.
"I said to Willy, 'Wouldn't it be cool if we did something like that for a cause?" says Taylor, 19.
They initially thought they'd put together a small ride somewhere in B.C.
"Then it just started growing," says Taylor. "We got a lot of support and a lot of followers and we started realizing it was going to be a pretty big event."
Like Willy, Taylor is happy to be able to do something in Don's honour as he's known the Konantz family for as long as he can remember.
"They're obviously going through a tough time," he says. "It was really hard for all of them, but they're an amazing family, they've (dealt) with it so well. Don's such an inspirational guy, he was always so happy and just being so honest with how he was feeling and what he was going through. It's really tough to see a man that healthy, that young, go through something so tough."
While the pair are accomplished athletes - both played for Collingwood's provincial championship rugby team, Willy competed in ski racing and Taylor is an avid basketball and soccer player - they have little road biking experience. To prepare, they've been undergoing training, both on the road and spinning in the gym, and are feeling pretty confident about how they'll fare.
Their friends Mikhail Zalesky, a fellow Collingwood grad, and Yongku Jung, who graduated from Sentinel secondary, will travel behind them in a support car.
On May 2, Willy's parents - Don, who's continuing to undergo treatment for his cancer, and mom Catherine - will join them for the first leg of their cycle, from London to Toronto.
West Coast residents are encouraged to join the Gear West riders for the final leg of their journey, from Abbotsford to Dundarave in West Vancouver, an approximately 70-km stint, June 6.
For more information on Gear West: Our Ride For Men, to make a donation or join the final leg, visit ourrideformen.com. For more information on the Vancouver Prostate Centre, visit www.prostatecentre.com.