Cyclists retrace last 100 days of First World War to raise money for mental health

Cyclists are wrapping up an impressive fundraiser in Europe that honors Canadian veterans, both past and present.

One of the major fundraisers for Wounded Warriors Canada is the Battlefield Bike Ride, where participants cycle hundreds of kilometers though areas significant to Canada’s military history.

This year, riders are traveling 400 kilometers to honor the contribution by Canadians and Newfoundlanders in the last 100 days of the First World War.

While the Canadians Corps saw victory from France to Belgium from August to December 1918, the triumphs came at a high price. Canadians and Newfoundlanders suffered more than 45,000 casualties.

One of the Battlefield Bike Ride cyclists, Conception Bay South Fire Chief John AT Heffernan, joined CTV Morning Live Atlantic this week from Valenciennes, in northern France.

While cyclists have dealt with high temperatures, he said the ride has been “fantastic” so far.

“It’s a great area for cycling, very historic, very relevant to the 100 days of victory. It’s been a great trip so far. I’ve been doing this now since 2014. This year is one of the smaller groups that we’ve had, so the pandemic obviously had an effect on the numbers, but very significant all the same.”

Heffernan says the ride happens for a couple reasons.

“One is to bring awareness to some of the issues that not only military, both serving and veterans, and first responders are exposed to from an operational stress injury perspective. It certainly helps bring awareness to that and the significance of it.”

The other goal of the ride is to support the mental health programs offered by Wounded Warriors Canada.

“Obviously, we have to have the funding model to support that. The funds that are raised are very important. So this year, I think, so far — and the donations will continue to pour in after the ride — we’re just shy of $400,000. But since we started doing this in 2014, we’re very close to four million dollars.”

Heffernan says it’s interesting to hear all the different reasons why people sign up.

Participants include current military members, first responders, civilians, and Canadians who may not even be interested in cycling, but who have an interest in supporting the cause.

“We have people that come back year after year, but we have people that come on specific rides because they have specific reasons for doing so. Whether it’s a family connection, or personal connection to a military family member, or a first responder that they’re trying to raise funds for, or maybe they’re dealing with an operational stress injury. There’s a whole bunch of different reasons and everybody’s sort of got their own personal story.”

The Battlefield Bike Ride wraps up Friday in Mons, Belgium.

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