June 10, 2011 (Toronto, ON) – Every village has an idiot. It seems Bloor West Village, located in Toronto’s west end, has about 15. Their playful T-shirts, featuring a red and white court jester, have made this group a carnival-like attraction in the community and a popular neighbourhood symbol.
In the summertime, it’s not uncommon to see this group sitting outside a coffee shop or neighbourhood pub enjoying a pint. “Oh look, it’s the Idiots,” you will hear, followed by a good-hearted chuckle and nod of the head.
So, who are this band of Idiots?
The Bloor West Village Idiots cycling team formed three years ago around the Ride to Conquer Cancer – a two-day, 200km journey from Toronto to Niagara Falls benefiting the Princess Margaret Hospital. What began as a small group of four cyclists has morphed seemingly overnight into a group of over 15 riders.
While the group’s popularity may seemingly be due to their amusing name and funny t-shirts that continue to attract attention in the Bloor West Village community, there is a more serious issue at the heart of this fun-loving group’s popularity. This is a team of riders united around the issue of raising money for cancer research.
I sat down with Doug Evans, Gavin O’Hara, Tom Ostler and Anthony Ruta at Fiddler’s Pub, a popular neighbourhood jaunt the Idiots frequent. Although united around the issue of cancer, this close-knit group of friends clearly enjoy each other’s company and always a good laugh. In fact, Anthony describes this group as not just a cycling group, but a group of friends, who as he says is like “a drinking club with a cycling problem,” referring to their tendency to down a few pints after a long bike ride.
The name Bloor West Village Idiots was the creation of Tom’s wife, Marina. “I guess she thought it was a suitable fit” [to describe this group of guys], laughs Anthony, who has been on the team since its inception.
The group formed in 2008 with the Ride to Conquer Cancer as the goal. “There were three or four of us that started riding together on a regular basis and at some point … decided to do the Ride to Conquer Cancer (RTCC) as a goal for our riding – 100km a day in two days in a row and as we rode we actually picked up other people in the neighbourhood,” says Anthony.
Gavin joined the group after first completing the RTCC as a solo rider in 2008. He became drawn to the Idiots after joining their training sessions, led by Doug Evans through RPM Spinning & Gravity Studio, where the group now trains during the winter months.
After being diagnosed at the age of 51 with Multiple Myeloma, a treatable but non-curable form of bone marrow cancer, Doug was determined to complete the Ride to Conquer Cancer, benefiting the Princess Margaret Hospital – the place where he received his chemotherapy and stem cell transplant two and a half years ago. He began organizing training workshops for cyclists who were registered for the gruelling ride as a way to grow stronger as an individual rider and meet friends who shared a common passion.
“This team connects a passion to ride and a passion to do something,” says Doug, who became an Idiot in 2009. As a cancer survivor, the RTCC means giving back to the team of researchers and doctors that saved his life. Two of the group’s members have battled cancer personally, while many others have had a direct connection with the disease through parents, siblings, spouses and friends.
“There’s a strength and commitment to doing this,” explains Doug. “When there’s a reason to do it and it’s close to your heart, it’s more than [just bike riding], and that’s what drives a lot of this to happen,” he says.
The connection to cancer and dedication to raising money for the cause has created a great support system within the group. This support has meant a great deal to Doug as he continues to go through cancer treatments. “I was doing the RTCC ride come hell or high water. … I was lucky enough to do it with the Idiots and I can’t imagine not doing it with the Idiots because that group setting really pulls you through,” he says, choked up with emotion.
Neighbourhood interest in joining the Idiots has grown over the past couple of years. Gavin explains the integration of new members. “The group has grown in a very organic fashion. We haven’t done any active recruiting … it’s word of mouth, it’s relationships that people have – somebody brings somebody … a friend, a colleague who rides,” he explains.
While the group’s fun-loving nature, amusing team name and informal attitude certainly draws a great deal of attention, this is a group that is also serious about the cause of cancer. “We’re not a club or anything like that. We’re about as informal as you get. And it’s on purpose … we’re a bunch of idiots that like the social side of riding and having partners to ride with and who are together for one cause, which happens to be cancer,” says Doug.
“People who seek us out know that we’re the village idiots first and foremost and understand that we’re riding to raise money for cancer,” explains Anthony.
In order to join the team, a rider must complete one of two rides – either the Ride to Conquer Cancer or the Tour for Kids, a four day, 800 km bike ride benefiting a variety of children’s cancer charities.
In order to complete the Ride to Conquer Cancer, each rider has to fund raise $2,500. Meeting this goal is a challenge for the team, who aim to raise even more than the required $2500 per person. During the summer months, the group can be found spinning along the Bloor West Village strip in front of neighbourhood establishments, collecting donations from passers-by. “We’ve done spin-a-thon’s on Bloor Street in front of No Frills, in front of Timothy’s, in front of the Cheese Boutique,” says Anthony. This summer will be the group’s third year on the streets, spinning for change.
This team is not only committed to raising funds for cancer research, but are committed to each other as well. “What makes this group popular with people that ride in it is that we ride together,” says Doug. In true team spirit, the group helps each other along the way, giving words of encouragement, pushing each other up difficult hills and never letting a member fall behind. “No idiot left behind, that’s our motto,” laughs Doug. “It’s not about a race to the finish, … we all raised this money to be here not to be the first to cross the line, but to be together,” he says.
The 2009 ride is etched in Idiot memory as one of the greatest moments for the team. Gavin, who did the 2008 RTCC ride alone, says he will never forget the moment of crossing the finish line in 2009 as a team.
“Crossing the finish line as a group was intense,” he says. “Particularly, crossing the finish line with two cancer survivors on board,” adds Anthony. The guys take a moment to pause, remembering that powerful moment.
They explain that when they crossed the finish line in 2009, they organized it so that Doug and Will, the group’s two cancer survivors, would lead the team, crossing the finish line ahead of the rest. A photo, attached, shows the emotion on the two men’s faces as they celebrate their team’s achievement, and their own personal victory, “kicking cancer in the ass,” says Doug.
Connecting a passion for bike riding and a passion to raise money for cancer research has allowed this team to expand beyond one or two events. What began as a group of cyclists training for one ride has sprouted close friendship bonds that go beyond riding as a hobby. Anthony explains: “it really has morphed into something beyond cycling. It’s really a group of friends who feel strongly about raising money for the cause and the cause in this case is cancer.”