There’s nothing like a little friendly competition to spur a fundraising campaign that benefits cancer care and research at Toronto’s Princess Margaret Cancer Centre.
The Enbridge Ride to Conquer Cancer – the annual, two-day, 200 kilometre cycling event from Toronto to Niagara Falls – marked its 10th year the weekend of June 10.
Throughout its history, Lawrence Zimmering, 66, president and CEO of AutoCapital Canada, and Steve Cohen, 59, owner of Salit Steel, have fielded the top fundraising teams.
When the ride ended, they kibbitzed about who had raised the most money.
For the first three years, Zimmering’s team was No. 1. “I wasn’t going to let him keep winning,” Cohen joked as he took refuge from the heat in a large hospitality tent, where he was hosting a barbecue for his team of 350 riders and their supporters.
“The money goes to (the) same place,” Cohen said. “The little bit of rivalry has pushed us both to do more.”
This year’s ride saw some 5,042 riders collectively raise more than $20.5 million. The SpiderTech Zimmering Pacesetters, a team of 135 riders, raised $681,439, while Steve’s Cycle Paths, a team from Toronto and the Niagara Falls area, brought in $1.2 million.
Over the last 10 years, Zimmering’s Pacesetters have raised $5.2 million, while Cohen’s Cycle Paths have brought in $7.5 million.
Both men pointed out that they’re competing with corporate giants – banks, car companies, etc.
Zimmering’s motivation for supporting The Princess Margaret is personal: he is a cancer survivor.
“A year before the ride started, I was diagnosed with a curable cancer,” he said. “I was sort of freaked out because of my family history – my mother and father both had cancer and died young.”
Zimmering explored treatment at some American cancer centres, only to discover that most of the physicians he consulted with had trained at The Princess Margaret.
“So I was drawn back to Princess Margaret. Neil Fleshner was my surgeon – he’s (an) incredible doctor – and as I was being wheeled into to the OR, I said to Neil, ‘After the surgery, let me know if I can do anything for the hospital.’
“They told me they were thinking of doing the ride and I jumped in with two feet,” he said.
He put together a team – initially called the Bauer-Zimmering Pacesetters – which he co-led with his friend, bicycle road racer and Olympic silver medalist Steve Bauer.
“We recruited an amazing team of people – executives and friends. We got a lot logistical help from my employees. It’s very gratifying to see people start their own teams and families that now ride together,” he said. “We have created something sustainable.”
Zimmering Pacesetters were the top fundraisers in the first three years, Zimmering recalled. But, “by year four, our fundraising efforts were out-paced by Steve Cohen. We would meet and kibbitz.”
Cohen said he was motivated to do the ride because 11 years ago, there were seven people in his life who had been diagnosed with cancer. “The most amazing thing is that they’re all still alive. What would be the chances of them surviving 50 years ago? Frankly, all the research changed their outcomes,” he said.
Cohen said he was having lunch with a few friends, when they heard about the The Princess Margaret ride, which was in the planning stage. “We challenged each other to sign up. At the time, I don’t think we could have ridden 20 K.”
By Christmas, however, recruitment for The Princess Margaret ride was below expectations and so Cohen was approached to commit to five more spots. “I said put me down for 25,” he recalled.
That first year, his team had 44 cyclists; today, it’s eight times that size.
His son, Daniel, 24, and daughter, Rebecca, 31, manage the race logistics.
Cohen books hotel rooms in Hamilton, Ont., and holds a banquet there for his riders.
“After the third year, my son, Michael – he’s done the ride nine times – said, ‘Dad, we should be in first place.’ ”
The next year, they succeeded. Steve’s Cycle Paths have held that first place position since then. “The ride is not a race,” he said. “The yardstick for success is the money raised, not the time we finish.