There are few things more catastrophic than learning a child we love has cancer. Making a difference is the driving force for Kayla Carlson, who has been a volunteer with the Chemainus fire department for the last six years.
She will be the first rider to represent Chemainus pedaling for pediatric cancer since Cops for Cancer’s Tour de Rock first set its wheels in motion in 1997.
Taking up the Cops for Cancer banner this year, Carlson will start the tour with the group in Port Hardy on Sept. 23 and finish in Victoria on Oct. 6. She first heard about Cops for Cancer as a young girl, and once the renowned tour was extended to all emergency services personnel, she was all in.
“This is going to be a big challenge but the motivator is the kids and sending them to Camp Goodtimes,” said Carlson. “It will be neat to be the first to represent my community this way. By riding, I want to make a difference through fundraising so that we can advance all these different research techniques and get one step closer to a cure.”
Since its inception, Tour de Rock has raised $27 million to date. While each participant is expected to raise a minimum of $6,000 which supports sending children with cancer to Camp Goodtimes, based out of Maple Ridge, in July, Carlson has her sights set a little higher and aims to raise $15,000 for this great cause. Donations can be made on Carlson’s personal Cops for Cancer page.
“For me, the more money, the better. I wanted to shoot big,” she said. “I’m hoping to get beyond that once we get going. I’ve reached out to several family members and my community. I think once the initial teams are announced in May we will be going head strong.”
Carlson has been giving back to her community since joining the Chemainus fire department as a junior volunteer after graduating from high school, and has been a paramedic within the community for the past two years.
“Ever since I joined it really feels like a second family here,” she said. “There’s a lot of situations where I feel I have been able to challenge myself. You learn a lot of different skills here, and everything has contributed to where I’m at in life with being a paramedic and continuing to move forward as a firefighter.”
What is really fuelling Carlson’s fire for the upcoming tour is her own personal connection to cancer and those close to her it has impacted. She’s grateful her grandfather, who was diagnosed with prostate cancer a few years back, is now in remission, but her true inspiration stems from a former co-worker who learned he had lung cancer after failing an annual routine lung test.
“Cancer has definitely impacted my life in many ways,” said Carlson. “I think the inspiration for me was all of the different treatments my friend Alex (Meyer) went through while continuing his paramedic training and staying on as a volunteer firefighter. If there is any drive that I need it comes from him. I will definitely be riding for him.”
Carlson prides herself on having a passion for personal fitness, but admits she has never cycled at this calibre before. What began as gearing up for distance rides of 40 to 60 km on Sunday nights has now been amped up to three nights of training a week, with Tuesdays focusing on hill climbs, and Thursdays on speed. Carlson shares there are many techniques one has to learn with an event like this to pedal as a pack. While thrilled to be a part of this year’s Tour de Rock team, her burning desire and drive lies in involving her longtime community.
“For me it’s really about the community involvement,” said Carlson. “I think coming together to raise these funds and support pediatric cancer is my biggest goal. It doesn’t start with several people, it starts with one person and then they all come together in order to reach this goal.”
(Editor’s note: Steve Smith, who moved to Chemainus in 2017, was a Saanich Police reserve member when he did the Tour de Rock in 2015. He has done two of the mini tours held during COVID and continues to volunteer every year for a full week along the tour).