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Q&A: A deeply personal Battlefield Bike Ride

For Armed Forces reservist Jacqueline Zweng, there was more to Wounded Warriors Canada’s “Vimy 100” trip than fundraising, sightseeing and honouring the fallen.

On Aug. 19 and 20, the Highway of Heroes Bike Ride will roll 220kms from the city of Trenton to the provincial legislature in downtown Toronto. Like the annual Battlefield Bike Ride in Europe, this overnight WWC trip along the northern shores of Lake Ontario supports ill and injured Canadian Armed Forces members, veterans, first responders and their families.

Three months earlier, Jacqueline Zweng took part in her first WWC ride, “Vimy 100,” which marked the centennial of one of Canada’s most important military victories. She found the fundraising and sightseeing aspects immensely rewarding — but there was another, more personal, side to the experience.

Q: What inspired you to take part in BBR 2017?

A: I initially signed up for the 2016 ride, “the Italian Campaign,” because I was looking for a new cycling challenge, it sounded absolutely amazing to go to Italy with a group of like minded-people, and I wanted to help raise money for a great cause. After all, I’ve been in the military for almost 20 years, my dad was a firefighter, and my brother is a Griffon helicopter pilot with the Canadian Armed Forces. Unfortunately, after I had already signed up, bought my plane tickets and reached my fundraising goal, I was diagnosed with breast cancer and wasn't able to go. So, after completing treatment for 21 months, I was able to attend BBR17. The goal remained the same, but I had no idea how much my life was going to change going into the experience and how much more amazing it would become.

Q: What were your expectations going in?

A: Meeting new and inspiring people, learning a lot about the history of Canadians during conflict, and doing as much as possible to raise awareness for the mission of Wounded Warriors. I was also hoping for some epic cycling and hoping I would feel strong the whole time.

Q: What was the overall experience like? How did it match up with your expectations?

A: It surpassed my expectations by a lot! It is difficult to describe in words how it felt to be part of a group of 140 Canadians on a mission to honour the fallen while cycling through battlefields that at one time were filled with so much death and pain. It is an overwhelming feeling of gratitude and compassion. Making that even more amazing is experiencing it while physically challenging myself.

Q: Were there moments from the ride that really stand out?

A: One was being asked to lay a wreath at the Menin Gate in Ypres. It was a huge honour for me to be chosen and represent our group. I will never forget that. Another was having an opportunity to sit down with (Cervélo Territory Manager and ride director) Glen Innes and explain to him how much my Cervélo S2 means to me. We were sitting in a tiny old pub right beside Windsor Castle, and were joined by one of the security guards who just got off shift. The guard asked about our bikes, and I ended up telling everyone how important mine is to me. I shed a few tears and I felt so honoured to be able to tell Glen how much it helped me fight through cancer treatments. I believe my Cervélo is the greatest thing I own.

Q: What advice would you give to someone who's considering taking part?

A: Take the time to ride as much as possible beforehand. The stronger you are and comfortable riding in groups, the more you can relax and enjoy the experience. It is about cycling, but ultimately it's about the emotional journey. So the more you can enjoy the moments without the physical pressures the more impactful the experience can be.

Q: What's your next cycling adventure?

A: The Ride to Conquer Cancer on Aug. 26 and 27. It covers 240kms in two days from Vancouver to Seattle, and is obviously an issue close to my heart. In July I was part of a team of 14 people who rode our bikes around Stanley Park in Vancouver for 24 hours. The event is called "Light on PTSD" to raise awareness of post-traumatic stress disorder and the fact that people struggle with it 24/7. We raised $10,000 for Honour House, which is a place first responders and their families can go when they need somewhere to stay while dealing with medical issues or other needs.