Ride the Rideau raises $2.3 million despite tragedy

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Ottawa Construction News staff writer

Laurie Strano’s tragic death put a damper on the fifth annual Ride the Rideau celebrations, but not on The Ottawa Hospital Foundation and local construction industry’s support for the cancer research fund-raising cause.

The ride’s 950 participants, many from the industry, raised $2,314,356 during the Sept. 6 event, bringing the five-year fund-raising total to more than $8.7 million.

Strano, an experienced rider and the director of quality, patient safety and risk management at The Royal Ottawa Health Care Group, was killed in a collision with a garbage truck.  Police are investigating. Riders experienced challenging rainy weather conditions and a choice of three partially-overlapping route options, depending on whether they were riding 50 km, 100 km or 100 miles.  Organizers cancelled the ride after the accident, and riders made it back to the EY Centre either by bus or on their own for a greatly-subdued conclusion to what originally had been planned as a celebratory event.

Michelle Van Vliet, director of corporate partnerships for The Ottawa Hospital Foundation, says: “We are so very grateful to the Ottawa-area construction and homebuilders’ industries for their support and participation in Ride the Rideau. Now, one of our priorities is to conduct a thorough review of the event in order to determine the future of the ride. We remain inspired by the incredible generosity of the building community of Ottawa, its commitment to this event, and to The Ottawa Hospital research team in giving hope to patients in our region living with cancer.”

Later in September, following the Ride the Rideau tragedy, organizers of a cycling event in Gatineau supporting the hospital there arranged with police for additional coverage, reviewed the route carefully, and provided route-based safety guidance along the way. Participants in that much smaller event – with about 100 riders – told CBC television that they felt safe on the ride, despite equally rainy conditions.

Several teams from the local AEC community raised most of the money.  Riders (or their teams in aggregate) were expected to raise $1,500 each or more for cancer research.

Robert Merkley’s Brick Peddlers raised more than any other team – 156 team members collected $481,041.  Four of the other five teams also were from the industry, including the Tomlinson Red Army, which raised $310,577; title sponsor Mattamy Homes, $123,795; and Taggart Group of Companies, $56,876.

“Before the start Roger Greenberg and I spoke.” Robert Merkley wrote in a note to his team participants the evening the ride concluded. “Roger commented that ‘he’d done his share of riding in the rain and that he wasn’t going to ride today in the rain’. The next time I saw Roger, he passed me on the 100 km route.

“Like many of you, most of the 950 riders did start the ride and we all intended to finish,” Merkley wrote. “Unaware of the tragedy, first-time participant Chris Taggart had nothing but praise for the event and I received an email from another of his team mates praising the ride.”

“As with all of you, I am shocked and deeply saddened with this tragedy,” Merkley wrote. “This tragedy should not take away the fact that The Ottawa Hospital Foundation has and hopefully will continue to put on one of North America’s finest cancer research fund raisers. My heart goes out to The Ottawa Hospital Foundation in this extremely difficult time.”

“I’m so very, very proud of all of you and our thoughts are also with the family of our lost Ride the Rideau rider.”

Van Vliet said the hospital foundation hasn’t yet set the date or route for next year’s event.

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