Blind cyclist nearing Penticton

The Craig Gives Back-2-Back Cross Canada Bicycle Tour lands here next Friday

Injuries have prevented blind cyclist Craig Aucoin from continuing his cross-Canada ride but they did not end his dream.

Aucoin and sighted partner Lloyd McLean left St. John’s Nfld. Aug. 4 for a planned 85-day, 8,260-kilometre bicycle tour however separate incidents even before they reached Nova Scotia, curtailed his quest. Since then, Bob MacDonald, who suffers from the same condition (retinitis pigmentosa) which left Aucoin legally blind, has taken up the rear seat on the tandem, recumbent cycle.

“The terrain in Newfoundland was very challenging, a lot of big hills and it was unfortunate about Craig but it is what it is,” said McLean in a recent telephone interview from Suffield, Alta., just east of Calgary.

“But the trip itself has been great and everywhere we go the response we get from the people is wonderful.

“But as we get closer to the end and we can feel the end coming, it is exciting and hard to believe how many experiences we’ve had over the last two months.”

The pair were preparing for their crossing of the Rocky Mountains and are expecting to be in Penticton for a meet and greet Friday, Oct. 18, at about 9:30 a.m. at Home Hardware.

The Craig Gives Back-2-Back Cross Canada Bicycle Tour was organized as a fundraiser and an awareness campaign.

In Aucoin’s words: “To give back to the three non-profit organizations that helped me turn my life around and to inspire Canadians of all ages to overcome their personal challenges and adopt healthy, active lifestyles.”

The groups he was referring to are the CNIB, YMCA and Canadian Guide Dogs for the Blind.

“In the past 10 years, Craig has completely turned his life around for the better,” said McLean,  Aucoin’s good friend and personal trainer.  “He has lost 80 pounds and continues to exercise and eat properly. Craig’s dream was to be fit and strong, so you could say he is now living his dream and inspiring thousands of people along the way.”

He added that on the trip there have been challenges in every region, from the unseasonably cold temperatures in northern Ontario to Prairie headwinds so strong the pair had to pull over and camp on the side of the highway.

But there have also been some events the cyclists will never forget.

“One of the most memorable would still be in Quebec and cycling with eight other blind and sighted tandem bikes from Montreal to Oka, about 50 kilometres,” said McLean.

“Just to be able to share that experience with them was incredible.”

The best part however is the response and support they receive along the way, people who stop them in the grocery store or see them in a restaurants and wish them well.

In addition to raising money and awareness, for his part, McLean hopes others will also consider volunteering their time to help people like Aucoin and MacDonald.

“I’m always urging able bodied people to get out there and be a guide runner or guide cyclist,” he said.

“Craig would love to bike every single day of the week but there are only two of us that are able to bike with him.

“So he is forced to live with our schedules and even once a week is sometimes a challenge.”

Summing up the trip, McLean feels it is really what being Canadian is all about.

“When you are sick or diagnosed with an illness, you expect to get services or support that you need to continue to live an active and independent life and you’d want the same for the next person,” he said. “Then if you could you would give back but Craig is not a rich person and can’t dig down into his pocket and donate $100,000, so we decided to do it using sweat equity.”

At this stage Aucoin is expected to join the team in Vancouver for the final leg of the journey which is slated to end Oct. 27 in Victoria.