Cancer research was given a $1-million boost this weekend at a bike tour event buoyed by a cycling legend who proved an inspiration to many of the participants.
Before pedalling off on the 60-km leg of yesterday's Tour of Courage Community Ride, Heather Stewart mingled and chatted with the more than 250 other riders, but one in particular stood out in her mind -- seven-time Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong.
Stewart, a 31-year-old civil engineer who was diagnosed with breast cancer last October, got to spend a few private minutes with Armstrong, who overcame a highly-publicized bout with testicular cancer that spread to his brain and lungs in 1996.
"It was pretty cool," said Stewart of the encounter.
"He didn't really impart any words of wisdom or anything, we just talked -- it was overwhelming, really."
In total, 45 riders, who raised at least $5,000 each, joined Armstrong on his fourth 120-km ride from Lake Louise to Radium Hot Springs on Saturday, then more than 250 cyclists took part in the first-ever community ride yesterday, featuring a 30-, 60- and 90-km route around the foothills.
Yesterday's riders pledged $25 each and have committed to raising another $1,000 for the Alberta Cancer Foundation.
Wearing a red jersey emblazoned with the words 'One Simple Girl,' Stewart was joined on her journey by boyfriend Andrew McMillan and friends Nancy Baggio, Camille Maydonik and Maria Webb.
Having friends and family supporting her, added Stewart, made the ride that much easier, much like her ongoing battle against cancer.
"It's been a journey for sure," she said. "It's like riding, you just keep going."
Stewart wasn't the only rider to get up close and personal with Armstrong.
Friends Todd Malcolm and Lyle Gaskell joined yesterday's 90-km ride in support of Gaskell's mother-in-law, who was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in March.
"We managed to keep up with him for a while and got to talk to him," said Malcolm, still sporting a big smile while enjoying a post-ride lunch at Spruce Meadows.
"He was such a down-to-Earth guy -- at one point I looked around and thought, 'where's Lance,' then I looked back and he was drafting me."
In total, more than $1.2 million was raised over the three days. The money will go to new cancer research projects at the Tom Baker Cancer Centre in Calgary and Edmonton's Cross Cancer Institute.