For most people, just the drive from Toronto to New York would be an exhausting trip, but 19-year-old Benji Pister will be making the 800-kilometre journey by bicycle next month. It will take him six days.
Pister, who has just finished his first year of life sciences at McMaster University, will be making the bike tour in memory of his late grandfather, Paul. His goal is to raise awareness and money to find a cure for Alzheimer’s disease. His grandfather suffered from Alzheimer’s before his death four years ago.
“My grandfather was a very unique person. He was always happy, and he loved every single grandchild that he had,” said Pister, who has named the trek the Paul Pister Ride for Alzheimer’s Research.
As Pister’s grandfather became more affected by Alzheimer’s, which is usually marked by deterioration in memory, emotional health and cognitive skills, the family had to deal with the pain of his worsening mental state.
“It really was heartbreaking,” Pister said. “It definitely affected me a lot.”
Despite the fact that Alzheimer’s disease affects many elderly people, funding for research is not nearly as abundant as it is for other causes, such as cancer research. Pister is determined to help change that.
“What I want to get out of this is just to motivate others to do more fundraising for Alzheimer’s, and really, the end goal is to find a cure,” he said. So far, he has raised about $2,500 for the Alzheimer Society’s research program, exceeding his initial goal of $2,000.
“The donations kept coming in,” Pister said, adding that after a slow start, friends and family began spreading the word of his upcoming bike journey and people have been eager to help.
Pister began taking a serious interest in cycling when he was about 15 years old. Last year, he rode in the 100-kilometre Zareinu Moveathon to raise money for children with physical and developmental disabilities.
Since making the decision to do a ride to New York about a year ago, Pister has been training to become a stronger cyclist. “I’ve been doing some major rides,” he said. In addition to training on a stationary bike and working on his strength at the gym, he bikes to Hamilton and back each week to take a summer course at McMaster.
Pister has also altered his diet to include more protein and carbohydrates. He has virtually cut out junk food, finding that it slows him down in training.
It’s important for Pister to focus on preparation, as the ride to New York will have him riding some 150 kilometres a day, he said.
Because Pister’s own bike is not suitable for the intense ride, he will be using an aluminum road bike for the trip, lent to him by his friend Benjy Wexler. “Without that bike, I wouldn’t be able to do what I’m doing now,” he said.
Pister’s father will be following him in a van, along with a friend who will be making a video documentary about the ride. The team plans to stop each night to rest and to make one stop each day until reaching New York.
Part of the reason for choosing the destination, Pister said, is because New York was one of his grandfather’s favourite cities.
Although the training has been tough, and Pister will have a long road ahead of him when he begins the ride on Aug. 19, he is motivated by the importance of the cause. “I want people to take away that a disease like this can’t be neglected,” he said.
Pister hopes to make the ride an annual event so he can continue to raise money for the cause. “The training has been going great and the fundraising has been going great,” he said. “I’m looking forward to the ride.”
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