South Australia’s annual Beat Cancer Tour continues to inspire as Cyclist catches up with Ryan Hodges, who is raising funds and awareness while bravely waging his own courageous battle with deadly lung cancer.
Words: Aaron S.Lee
Photography: Marcus Enno (Beardy McBeard)
For Adelaide native Ryan Hodges, the involuntary yet necessary act of breathing while racing his bike up infamous Willunga Hill – not once, but twice – during last year’s Beat Cancer Tour in South Australia is something he no longer takes for granted. That’s because two years ago, the then 32-yearold father-to-be was rocked after being diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer.
Hodges was previously the picture of good health. A non-smoker and long-time cyclist was simply not supposed to develop deadly lung cancer. But after six months of increasing difficulty breathing, a CAT scan showed a tumour that was originally dismissed as a severe bout of pneumonia. ‘I just didn’t feel right,’ Hodges tells Cyclist. ‘Breathing was difficult and even after multiple doctor visits and a chest X-ray, I was told it was pneumonia because it looked very similar in the lungs. No one expected a 32-year-old non-smoker to have lung cancer.
‘But finally, after no longer being able to hold a conversation without losing my breath, I was sent for a scan and biopsy that showed I had what doctors classified as a terminal illness.’ After the initial shock of his diagnosis and the expected self-imposed questions of ‘why me?’ had subsided, Hodges decided to take a proactive approach to his illness and get back in the saddle – not only for himself, but also for others by raising valuable funds for the research that might just keep him alive long enough to see his little boy, Oliver, become a man.
‘Four days before I was diagnosed we found out my wife was pregnant with our first child’
‘It’s obviously the hardest news you’ll ever have to hear,’ Hodges says. ‘We found out just four days before I was diagnosed that my wife was pregnant with our first child. Of course, we went through all of the emotions, and asked all of the questions: was this going to kill me? Will I see my child grow up? Why me? But, in the end, we decided to take a very positive approach to all of this.’ Enter the Beat Cancer Tour (BCT).
Plan of action
Cancer Council South Australia (SA) has been the charity partner for the Santos Tour Down Under (TDU) since 2009. That initial partnership created Ride for a Reason, which actively encouraged riders participating in the BUPA Challenge Tour – Stage 4 (the TDU’s annual mass-participation ride) to raise funds for cancer research and awareness.
After Ride for a Reason showed itself to be a success for a number of years, the idea was pitched to allow a select group of 30 amateur cyclists to ride every stage hours before the pros to raise further funds – and thus the BCT was born. For every dollar raised by BCT participants, $3 in research is provided thanks to a fund-matching agreement granted by the South Australian government.
For Hodges, who had already spent nearly a decade on the bike, the BCT was the perfect fit on many levels. Initial medical treatments in the first four months of his illness proved to be extremely successful in reducing the nearly 8cm tumour on his right lung by 90%, as well as shrinking other small lesions that surrounded both lungs. It all meant Hodges was ready to make a difference.
‘We expected for him to complete just one or two days following a gruelling week of chemo, but he did the whole thing’
‘I was looking to get more involved,’ Hodges says. ‘I was receiving great results from treatment and feeling optimistic. I was selected as an ambassador for Cancer Council SA, so the BCT was a real no-brainer. It involved two things I’m very passionate about in cancer research and cycling.’
But just three weeks prior to his courageous ride in the week-long, six-stage event that runs concurrently with UCI WorldTour opener in Adelaide, Hodges received news that the tumour had shown signs of regrowth, forcing him to undergo a round of cell-destroying chemotherapy.
‘Ryan is a standout,’ fellow BCT rider and race director George Wilson says. ‘He’s not just amazing in that he’s battling cancer, but he also completed last year’s ride in its entirety. We expected for him to complete just one or two days following a gruelling week of chemo just days prior to the event, but he did the whole thing and then went back to the hospital for another round following the ride.
‘The very fact he is alive is amazing as well, especially since a lot of his experimental treatment comes from us funding the Beat Cancer Project that the BCT so actively supports.’
Committed to the cause
That support is not lost on Hodges. ‘Sure we get to do what no other amateur cyclists on the planet get to do – we get to ride every stage the pros do in a WorldTour race,’ Hodges says. ‘But we do so as a group and along the way we spread our message and raise much-needed money that helps keep me and others alive, and that is the most important thing.’
Fellow BCT veteran and Adelaide native Meegan Osti, 52, is equally impressed with Hodges’ dedication to the cause and determination for recovery. ‘Ryan is still going through therapy and it’s quite amazing that he gets out there and stays so fit. I find it incredible,’ says Osti, who also races BCT with her husband and fellow doctor Orso, 62.
‘Along the way we spread our message and raise much-needed money that helps keep me and others alive’
‘I have a niece that has cancer, so I have a vested interest in raising funds for the Cancer Council as well. Cancer is something that has certainly affected our family’s lives directly – as it does many families, unfortunately. ‘It’s fantastic that Cancer Council is very supportive and always available to offer help in a number of tangible ways to those in need.’
For Hodges – who is looking to complete his second-straight BCT – while his battle wages on, his outlook remains forever optimistic and appreciative. ‘Like life, the BCT is not without its challenges,’ he says. ‘But we take each day as it comes and do so with a great team of people surrounding us.’
Hodges hits the gym every morning at 6am for a CrossFit session. He is then back at home for what he believes is his most important component of health and recovery: breakfast. Nutrition is key for Hodges, who firmly subscribes to the age-old idiom ‘you are what you eat.’ From there, the professional building engineer knocks off a full eight-to-nine-hour work day before returning home for a session on the bike and closing the night with dinner and quality time with the family.
As for any advice he has for those on the outside looking in, Hodges is circumspect with his closing comments. ‘That’s always a tricky question,’ he says. ‘So many things to consider, but the big thing is about taking control of your life and responsibility for it. Don’t wait for something like what happened to me to happen to you before you start living the life you want. Do it now, because there are no guarantees beyond today.’
Aaron S Lee is a pro cycling journalist for Eurosport and former editor of Cyclist.
2017 Beat Cancer Tour
What: Beat Cancer Tour
When: January 14-23, 2017
Where: Adelaide, South Australia
Number of entries: 30
Cost: Total $4,000
For all questions relating to all cancers, call 13 11 20. Qualified Cancer Council nurses and counsellors provide critical information and support services, ensuring no one goes through cancer alone.
By the numbers
Because everyone loves stats
total dollars raised since 2014
highest amount raised by a single rider
amount of bidons distributed
total number of kilometres ridden to raise funds for Cancer Council South Australia
pieces of fruit cake baked
age of oldest rider to date 14 age of youngest rider to date
dollars provided towards Beat Cancer Project research for every dollar raised by BCT due to fund matching
Beat Cancer Tour
You could ride more than 800km across every full stage of the Santos TDU(UCI 2.UWT), including the People’s Choice Classic criterium. The event includes:
• Professional, personalised training program and fundraising support;
• Accommodation in the official tour hotel, Hilton Adelaide, along with the pro teams;
• Beat Cancer Tour team Santini cycling kit (UV rated), UV cycling sleeves and off-bike team uniform;
• Beat Cancer Tour team presented to the public as part of the official pro teams presentation;
• Riding every stage (over 800km) of the Santos Tour Down Under before the pros each day and crossing the finish line of every stage, including the People’s Choice Classic;
• Physiotherapists and masseurs;
• Transport to and from stage starts and finishes;
• Soigneurs and domestiques to provide support on the road and a massage each night;
• Beat Cancer Tour team mechanic workshop in the Adelaide City Council Tour Village, alongside the pros;
• Beat Cancer Tour team support vehicles;
• Feed bags provided in feed zones;
• Nutrition, electrolytes, water, drink bottles and Cancer Council sunscreen supplied;
• Medical support will travel in the Beat Cancer Tour team support vehicles to attend to any immediate medical needs;
• VIP hospitality and seating at the finish of every stage;
• A showcase of Australia’s finest chefs and produce at daily team lunches and dinners;
• Ticket to Legends’ Night Dinner. Registration cost is paid in two instalments: ($2,500 tax deductible, plus $1,500 non-deductible), which covers rider costs during the tour. Riders are responsible for their own travel to the tour. VIP accommodation and everything else is provided. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for enquiries.
There are many ways to contribute to the 2017 Beat Cancer Tour (BCT), which will be held concurrently with the Santos Tour Down Under in January. While another full roster is expected with only 30 of the fittest, fastest and most passionate cyclists being selected, it still takes another 30-plus individuals to help complete the week-long event in Adelaide.
‘We are so lucky that Cancer Council SA does not charge for their staff time; if they did, we simply wouldn’t be able to pull this event off each year,’ says BCT rider and race director George Wilson, who also operates Unique Cycling Tours. ‘They cover a lot of the back-end expenses because obviously this event requires year-long organisation. In terms of the actual team, if you counted every support person, there would be more than 30 people helping us to make the BCT a reality.’
According to Wilson, one of the best ways to contribute is to donate to the team of riders selected to ride this year’s event. Every rider selected must raise $15,000 each, which for second-year riders Orso and Meegan Osti means a total of $30,000. The married doctors and parents of six, who live in South Australia, frequently host film nights to help raise funds for the event.
‘Our riders have a unique opportunity to fully participate in a WorldTour cycling event, but we can’t forget the real reason we are doing this,’ Wilson says. ‘Supporting the Beat Cancer Tour to help fund the Beat Cancer Project really is an amazingly efficient way to get money into world-leading research. We’ve seen first-hand how the Beat Cancer Project has directly benefited the lives of those with cancer.
‘Our riders need your support to help us reach our goals of providing even more money for cancer research in 2017.’
Last year $3 of research was funded for every $1 donated. It currently funds over 120 cancer research projects, which have positively affected cancer-related statistics over the past 20 years in Australia, such as a 14% drop in death, a 30% increase in survival and an estimated 61,000 lives saved due to improvements in cancer prevention, screening and treatment.
Thanks to the generous support of the community, Cancer Council SA is investing $10 million into Cancer Council’s Beat Cancer Project over five years, which is being matched by SA Health, creating a pool of funds totalling $20 million – making it the single largest source of funding for cancer research and infrastructure within South Australia. For more information on contributing to the Beat Cancer Tour, visit beatcancertour.com.au.