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The Ride has raised more than $8.5 for cancer research — an impressive community-focused initiative that transcends commercial competitors.

We’re going into the home stretch in fund-raising for The Ride, a 108-km. cycling event supporting cancer research at The Ottawa Hospital. This event, which traces its roots to the visit by two Ottawa-area construction and development industry leaders to Toronto for a similar event about eight years ago, shows how bridges can be crossed and good things happen when influence and good-will combine for higher objectives.

So far, the project has raised more than $8.5 million for cancer research, and I expect by the time the last rider reaches the finish line on Sept. 13, the amount raised will reach more than $10 million.

Interestingly, most of the funds have been collected by the local architecture, engineering and construction community and the initiative had bridged competitive boundaries. “I’ve been surprised by the contributions that my direct competitors are making in my name,” said Robert Merkley, president of Merkley Supply Ltd., who went to Toronto with Roger Greenberg, president of The Minto Group in 2009 for the cycling fund-raising event there. Claude DesRosiers, vice-president and general manager at Boone Plumbing and Heating Supply Inc. joined the initiative at the outset as its co-chair.

There have been twists and turns, some tragic, along the way. Last year, a cyclist was killed when she was hit by a garbage truck. Police ruled the event an accident, and organizers thought about what to do, considering that event’s objective is to save lives, not lose them.

In the end, they decided to continue, but revise the route – taking cyclists away from roads where there would be significant traffic risk. And so The Ride continues.

Through the years, Merkley led the fund-raising charge, observing that at some point or another, all of us will know someone affected by cancer. He did not know that this summer, his wife would discover she had the illness. Merkley had planned to step back from the fund-raising but, with the story coming painfully to his own home, his personal campaign has gone into high gear.

Merkley, one of my first clients when I started publishing Ottawa Construction News in 1991 – the foundation of the current multi-national publishing business – asked if I could lend publicity support to the initiative at the The Ride’s outset. This was a no-brainer because we’ve always supported relevant community service initiatives, and this project related closely to our readership. Merkley, however, wasn’t satisfied with some extensive free publicity. He purchased ads (at highly discounted rates, of course) to give the message even more impact.

He also recruited me to join the event.

I started out with a 30-year-old bike, and by the end of the first year’s ride, had a painfully sore rear-end and a really slow pace. However, I got into the groove, and have ridden every year since, gaining strength and speed. And there was an unexpected personal spin-off; the exercise has put the threat of pre-diabetes at bay.

We can learn some lessons from this successful initiative. First, selfless, community service truly can build bridges and relationships and remove competitive barriers. Secondly, good deeds have rewards that transcend the actual positive activities.

Perhaps this story will inspire you to either initiate or support a similar project in your own community.

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