Two summers ago, Jolaine Wiens was convinced she would never walk again.
The thought came to her after nearly four months of being confined to her bed due to an auto-immune disorder called Ankylosing Spondylitis (AS).
The disorder – which Wiens was only recently diagnosed with, despite being in pain for more than 20 years – causes the immune system to attack the body and targets the joints in the spine causing pain, stiffness and inflammation in the back. It can eventually lead to serious complications.
“I thought, ‘this is it. I’m done,” Wiens recalled. “It wasn’t getting any better. It’s the kind of pain that feels like you’ve been hit by lightning.”
Flash-forward two years, and Wiens is anticipating pain, but this time it will come after she attempts to bike 400 km in one day for the annual Ride2Survive, benefiting the Canadian Cancer Society.
The 45-year-old White Rock woman is taking on the challenge for two important reasons, including to recognize her beloved father, Walter Brown, who is a two-time cancer survivor and Wiens’ hero.
“My dad worked so hard to raise five kids and put food on the table and provide for us,” Wiens said, noting that while he is cancer-free, his body is feeling the strain of a lifetime of hard work.
“He was a quiet man and didn’t use a lot of words, but I can see all that he did for us. He worked his body to this point for us.”
Wiens added that she is also taking on the 19-hour ride simply because she has the ability to do so – something that she would never have thought was possible.
“If I have a body that works, I want to do something with it,” she said.
She noted that she is also riding for those who cancer has taken away too soon, including a mentor and her best friend’s husband, who passed away when he was 29.
“All those people are really important to me, so I want to do this for them,” she said. “I haven’t had cancer, but I know what it feels like when your body is hijacked. You’re angry at your body for not co-operating with you.
“There is a difference between being alive and living. Before this, when I was lying there, I was just alive. But now, to be able to do this, I’m thinking I’m living and I’m contributing.”
Wiens first heard about the race through retired White Rock fire chief Al McNabb, who participates annually in honour of his late first wife, Mervi.
“We spin together every week and he told me about this ride. So for years, when they would participate, I would follow them on (the website’s) GPS while I’d be in my house on crutches, waiting for updates,” she said. “I’ve always been a biker and love to ride, and I wished so bad I could do it.
“Last year, when I watched the computer, I cried the whole day. I wanted to do it, and now I can.”
The road for Wiens to get to this point has been difficult and plagued with setbacks. Shortly after she first signed up for the ride, she had to use crutches for seven weeks.
“It was a slap in the face. I felt like it was my body laughing at me and saying ‘how dare you be so bold to think you can do this, don’t you remember I’m in charge?’ she said.
“I doubted myself. It was a hard seven weeks. I thought, I’m not going to be able to do that.”
Fortunately, with the support of her team – including McNabb and her physiotherapist, Shelley Cowcill – Wiens pushed through.
But as one thing fell into place, another obstacle came up, making the ride even more personal for Wiens.
While she was fundraising and training, she was also undergoing tests for cancer.
Despite the stress and fear of what the test results would say, Wiens continued to power through her training and obligations.
Finally, when she received her tests – negative so far – she let her wall down and shared the news with her teammates.
“Al said to me, ‘whatever happens, we won’t let you down’,” she said. “I just thought, you know, I have never had a ‘we’ before. When I needed help, I didn’t have that. And to have this team of people… I know 100 per cent he meant what he said. That’s what a family is.”
That support has propelled Wiens through the obstacles she has faced leading up to the race and will help push her through the pain as she travels with a team of 130 from Kelowna to Delta raising funds for cancer research and support.
Even if Wiens is not able to complete the entire 400 km, she knows the distance is just one component to the fundraiser.
“As you progress, you learn more and more about what it’s all about. You hear the stories, the passion and how much of a family the group is,” she said. “I would say it’s absolutely life-changing for me and I think it will stay that way each year I can participate.”