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On the road with Rudy

Firefighter and part-time Whistler resident turns heads with epic rides for cancer

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For Rudy Pospisil, every day feels like a gift. Some 10 years ago he was diagnosed with cancer and eventually needed to have his lymph nodes removed and tested.

"It was a wait of several months before surgery," Pospisil recalls. "In that time the doctors told me to 'get my affairs in order" as they did not know the extent or how far it had spread.

"So your whole life gets put into perspective. Did I do what I wanted to do in life, what have I accomplished, what would they write in an obituary? That was 10 years ago now. I've been busy since then."

And in the last few years Pospisil has been extremely busy, organizing and executing long distance cycling epics while raising money for cancer research.

He first got the idea to raise money for cancer research from Vancouver's Jimmy Pattison, who made a donation on Pospisil's behalf when his illness became public.

"As busy and as well known as he is, he took the time to call me to talk about my illness, and thank me for writing (a thank you letter), as it inspired him," said Pospisil. "From that day on, he inspired me to do what I could to make other people feel better that were sick. I set out to raise funds for cancer research."

Naturally, Pospisil was also inspired by the example set by Terry Fox three decades ago.

Pospisil is a fire captain based in Burnaby, but has been coming up to Whistler skiing, hiking and biking for 35 years, from a young age when his Austrian parents started to come here on a regular basis. He owns a home here and rides his bike a lot in the area - especially the new road up the Callaghan Valley to Whistler Olympic Park.

The important thing is putting in the miles.

In 2009, Pospisil headed for Europe where he cycled through Germany, Austria, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary, following the Danube River most of the way. Before he left he wrote to fire departments in those countries, as well as the Canadian Chamber of Commerce and foreign consulates. That resulted in events in Passau, Vienna, Prague and Budapest.

"It was a new idea to most of these people - a guy riding a bike to raise money for cancer," says Pospisil. "They liked it. To this day they have a run in Prague and Budapest for their cancer agencies."

Pospisil doesn't know how much money was raised with funds going towards cancer agencies in those countries, but says the important thing was to inspire others to do fundraisers of their own.

This summer, Pospisil cycled from Vancouver to Mexico, an epic that covered 3,400 km of road with 80,000 vertical feet of elevation gain. He rode up to 160 km per day for a month straight, not missing a single day.

It was a far different experience than Europe, where a cyclist could stop in any town to get a bite to eat. He was joined on his trip about 10 days in by a camper, carrying food and other supplies he would need to complete his trip.

"In Europe I ate local foods," he says. "I ate schnitzel, goulash, and all sorts of assorted tasty but not really energy- or athlete-efficient foods. On the journey to Mexico I ate Clif bars only during the day, drank hydration drinks, recovery shakes at the end of the day... I lost almost 30 pounds on that ride.

"I endured record cold and rains in Oregon in September, then record heat in California. The hottest day was 104 degrees Fahrenheit (40 Celsius)."

Along the way Pospisil attended events hosted by fire departments, and attracted the attention of a filmmaker named David Hoffman who started to produce a documentary on Pospisil's journey. Verizon, which provided Pospisil with communication equipment, tipped him off.

"A documentary reaches a large audience," says Pospisil. "This film will hopefully achieve the three goals I always set out to do, fundraising, awareness and inspiration. Inspiration is how Terry Fox raised over half a billion dollars up to today in his name."

Having a film crew follow his journey was an interesting experience and involved everything from using a helmet cam or re-riding hills or roads clogged with logging trucks to get more footage. Hoffman is now editing 30 hours of footage down, with the goal of having it ready for film festivals - including possibly the Whistler Film Festival - in 2011.

The highlight, he says, was the reception by fire and police departments along the way.

"I cycled into Seattle, San Francisco, Los Angeles and San Diego with their police and firefighters to fundraising events," he says. "In San Francisco the police gave me an escort with motorcycles right through the city. That was an awesome experience."

For 2011, Pospisil is taking his fundraising to another level. In the spring he's looking to cycle from France to Portugal. In the fall he is planning a trip through Egypt, Israel and Jordan. He's calling it "Three Countries for Three Cancers."

"I met a university professor from Israel on my ride who was inspired by what I was doing. He wrote me and asked me to ride there," said Pospisil. "He says, and I agree, the world only gets bad news from media about those countries and they would like the world  to see what it's really like."

Pospisil is not afraid. "I think East L.A. has more dangerous places than Jordan," he said, although there is a lot of planning involved when travelling in that part of the world. He has been in contact with Canadian consulates to get more information and figure out the best route.

The three cancers he's targetting are Prostate, Breast and Lung Cancer - "the two most common to men and women, and one of the more difficult to treat."

Through his own experiences, he says it's important to have hope.

"The cancer clinic is right now full of people going through that every day," he says. "Young, old, rich, poor - cancer does not discriminate. (Those people) would give everything they have just to have their health."

You can support Pospisil's journey by making a donation on his behalf to the Canadian Cancer Society.