‘Breaking Wind’ cycling team shares laughs, challenges in support of Victoria Hospice

Ted Pennell’s dad was the kind of guy who knew everyone.

“He was focused on people his whole life,” said Ted. “It didn’t matter who they were. If they were in need, he would figure out how to help.” 

Ted’s dad was only 59 when he died from cancer, but the disease made him almost unrecognizable. 

“He looked like he was 80,” says Ted. “As a family, we put a picture of him on his bedside just so the nurses could see who this man was.” 

His dad – who lived on the mainland – did not receive hospice care. “Some of the nurses were incredible,” Ted recalls. “Others could have been changing the oil in a car. They just saw this old man, and there was a judgement.”  

It was a profound experience for Ted. He knew it could have been better. 

Two decades later, he learned about the Cycle of Life Tour, a 200-kilometre ride in support of hospice care on Vancouver Island. 

“I did a tour of Victoria Hospice and I knew right away. I wanted to help support this work.”

For Ted, the values of the organization resonated: non-judgement, empathy and respect for the intrinsic worth of each person. 

In 2019, he reached out to a small group of friends to join him on the Tour, and they  lightheartedly named their new team ‘Breaking Wind For Victoria Hospice’.  

“During the event, when we’d pass riders we would call out ‘Breaking wind on your left!’”

It was a little double entendre that kept things fun – especially when the hills were steep and the heat extreme. 

The two-day ride spans Victoria, Saanich Peninsula, the Cowichan Valley and Salt Spring Island. 

It was intimidating for Ted that first year. At the time, he was an intermediate cyclist with a more sedentary lifestyle. 

And that’s where his friend and co-captain of the team, Graham Hales, came in as coach and motivator. 

Graham is a long-distance cyclist who teaches spin class. He leapt at the chance to join the team, more for the opportunity to ride than to support the cause. At least at first. 

As he got more involved, and heard other riders’ stories of grief, he realized that he too was processing his own.

Recently, someone close to him had died. She was an old high school friend from Port Alberni. The two had reconnected in Victoria, by then both married with young families. 

“One day she texted me and said ‘I have ALS, I’d like to see you.’” 

Not long afterwards, Graham heard through a mutual acquaintance that she had died. 

“I needed something to take this sadness, this anger, and put it somewhere.” 

And that’s where his competitive side kicked in. 

“I wanted to be the top fundraiser. I wanted to ride the fastest, the furthest.” 

That first year, he held a spin-a-thon fundraiser where he spent an entire day on a stationary bike. After about eight hours, he was ready to quit. 

“I stretched, had a shower and a good cry. I just felt so guilty. I thought about my friend, and all the people who have lost someone they love. I thought if I didn’t finish, I’d be letting them down.” 

He got back on the bike for another five hours. 

Graham says he was prepared for the physical challenges of the ride, but not the emotional side. 

“The ride is incredible because everyone is there for the same reason,” says Graham. “Many cyclists have pictures of their loved ones on their handlebars. People break down every now and then, but we’re all so comfortable together because we’ve all gone through it.” 

Donors also want to talk about the people they’ve lost. 

“At fundraising events, perfect strangers come up and just start telling us stories,” said Graham. “It’s very empowering, but it’s also a lot of weight to carry.”

While the Cycle of Life Tour can be heavy and hard, it’s also a great time. Many riders come back year after year and friendships form. And then there’s the party: a campout on Salt Spring Island, complete with a sponsored banquet and awards ceremony. 

“It’s so much fun,” says Ted, who started training with his team again in March. 

“Often people aren’t aware that bereavement counselling is available to anyone, even if their loved one didn’t go through Victoria Hospice,” says Ted. “Many people don’t realize that Victoria Hospice couldn’t offer many of its services without donor support.” 

When Ted reaches out to the community for donations to support his ride, he says Victoria Hospice is an easy sell. 

“All the money stays in our local community, and everyone can use these services, in the end.”  

The Cycle of Life Tour runs July 20 and 21, 2024. You can support Team Breaking Wind or any team or individual fundraising cyclist and ensure compassionate end-of-life care is available in your community.

Team Breaking Wind for Victoria Hospice is holding a bottle drive April 6 at the Colwood Park & Ride on the corner of Sooke Road and Wale Road. Bring your empties from 9 am to 3 pm to support the team!