Steve Cohen - An Emotional and Physical Journey

Steve in Niagara Falls Review

Steve Cohen is the first to admit he is not an endurance cyclist.

But, for the past three years, the Niagara Falls businessman has rode his bicycle 200 kilometres from Toronto to Niagara Falls during the Enbridge Ride to Conquer Cancer.

"I was never a cyclist," said Cohen, president and CEO at Salit Steel in Niagara Falls. "I took it up four years ago specifically for this cause."

For Cohen that first ride was a personal challenge.

"In a very short period of time, between my wife Joy and I, we knew seven people who were diagnosed with cancer," he recalled.

Determined to do something to help, he gathered a group of 46 cyclists, including many of his employees, to complete the epic cycling journey.

That first year, the team raised an impressive $268,000.

In subsequent years, the team has grown to 175 cyclists from across Ontario and, collectively, has raised close to $1.7 million for cancer research.

And, of those seven people that were initially diagnosed, one of them is riding in this year's event.

"All seven are doing relatively well," Cohen said. "My goal is to one day have all seven of them healthy enough to ride with us."

If not for the advances in cancer care and prevention made possible through ground-breaking research, those seven people would likely have lost their battle with the disease.

"All seven would be dead," he said.

So far this year, Steve's Cyclepaths has raised more than $496,000 in pledges for the fourth annual ride which takes place June 11 to 12.

To date, the team has collected the second-highest amount in pledges - which is no small feat.

Cyclists must collect $2,500 in pledges in order to participate in the ride.

"There are people out there who can raise $40,000 - $50,000 alone," Cohen said.

"We're just group of regular folks."

One employee at the Stanley Ave. business baked muffins and sold them for $2 apiece to raise the funds. Others raised money through garage sale, bake sales and pasta dinners.

Cohen's passion for the cause is so great that, when he interviews prospective employees, he always asks them if they have a bicycle.

David Winckler, health and safety administrator at Salit Steel, first participated in the ride two years ago.

"It was an incredible experience...both physical and emotional," he said, adding he's now an avid cyclist.

Cohen's sons Michael and Daniel and daughter Rebecca also work behind the scenes with their father.

"Cancer is going to plague their generation as it does ours and I think we have an obligation to give back to the community," Cohen said. "It's one thing to write a cheque and get a plaque for your wall, it's another thing to see your kids get on a bike and ride 200 kilometres."

All money raised from the ride will benefit The Campbell Family Institute at The Princess Margaret Hospital, one of the top five cancer research centres in the world.

"With 45% of Canadian men and 40% of Canadian women developing cancer in their lifetimes, the money raised ensures sustainability of leading cancer research initiatives at Princess Margaret," said Dr. Jonathan Irish, chief of the department of surgical oncology at the Toronto hospital.

This year's funds will support research platforms such as image-guided technology and robotic surgery.

In terms of dollars raised, the Enbridge Ride to Conquer Cancer is the largest cycling fundraiser in Canadian history.

The event has raised more than $88 million for cancer research treatment.

There are rides in Toronto, Vancouver, Calgary and Montreal. More than 4,000 cyclists are expected to participate in the upcoming Ontario event.

"We are all here for the same reason, to find a cure for cancer in our lifetime," Cohen said.

"Whether it has been a personal fight, or watching a family member or friend suffer, we all know how truly devastating this disease can be."

Following opening ceremonies in Toronto on Saturday, participants embark on the first half of the route. They stay overnight in Hamilton to rest up for the final stretch on Sunday.

"It is clearly challenging," Cohen said. "It's meant to challenge you and inspire you...but not kill you."

He said it's a physical and emotional journey.

"Cancer has touched everyone's life in one way or another," said Cohen. "We

are all riding for someone," he said.

"You can be riding behind someone who is wearing a jersey with a picture of a little kid that says born 2006 deceased 2009 and 'thank you for riding' beneath the photo."

Cohen is inspired by the fact that, each year, he meets more and more people who have conquered cancer due to ongoing research.

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