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OUR CAUSE: Saanich Police a rock for Cops for Cancer

Tour de Rock at forefront of Saanich Police charitable efforts
Saanich Police officer Mike Lawless walks through the 2010 Tour de Rock team. Lawless embodied the Tour until died of cancer in 2015. Lawless rode the Tour de Rock in 2004 and was a member of the support crew until he was diagnosed with cancer in 2013. Riders in 2013 and 2014 wore badges in his honour

Since Tour de Rock started, Saanich Police has played a major role.

Sgt. Dan Mayo was there when the Canadian Cancer Society and local police detachments partnered to bring Cops for Cancer online. Mayo acted as support crew for the first ride, a trial-by-error attempt at the 1,000-kilometre trek down Vancouver Island in September that has since raised $22 million to fight childhood cancer.

“It’s quite the difference of what happened then compared to the machine that it’s turned into today,” Mayo said. “I recall riding the North Island that first year. We weren’t equipped, we didn’t understand what we needed. We needed [bike shoe] booties, rain coats, gloves, and we were freezing so we would stop in bike stores to see if they had 25, 30 sets of these things that we needed.”

Since then, 57 Saanich Police officers have ridden the Tour de Rock, with dozens more chipping in as support members. Some years they’ve had seven riders, some with one, but mostly two to four. This year’s team hasn’t been announced yet, as they train for two months before making the unofficial announcement. Their first ride was March 19.

“Tour de Rock became very popular, very quickly, because of the magnitude of what it represented,” Mayo said. “Everybody got on board because everybody is affected by it. It became very easy for everyone to say, let’s do as much as we can.”

Cops for Cancer is one of many charitable efforts the Saanich Police Department is involved in each year. Officers volunteer their time to assist with the annual MS Carnation campaign at local malls and storefronts, where they partner with local volunteers to hand out carnations and stickers.

Saanich Police officers also serve coffee at local Tim Hortons locations on June 1 to promote the Tim Hortons Children Foundation Camp Day, and do the same at McDonalds on McHappy Day, May 3.

“We also help out with Dodd’s Furniture’s annual Christmas dinner for Our Place, and are involved in the Special Olympics, and several events via the Law Enforcement Torch Run,” said Saanich Police Sgt. Jereme Leslie.

But the big focus, without a doubt, is the Tour.

Mayo joined the team as a rider in 1999 and has been involved every year since, acting as chairperson for the Canadian Cancer Society Cops for Cancer Tour de Rock for the past four years.

The commitment is so regimented and demanding that interested Saanich Police officers sometimes have to wait their turn to partake in the ride.

Each rider pledges to raise $5,000 and is expected to be at three training rides per week, with the big ride on Sunday.

“[Officers] have to be released from their workplace to do that so it’s fairly onerous all around really,” Mayo said. “There have been times where officers are turned away, where they’ve been told, ‘Sorry it’s not going to be a good year for you, we can’t release you’.”

Usually when officers are turned away, they’ve come back the next year, Mayo added.

In addition to having representation on the team, several Saanich Police members are on the Tour de Rock steering committee, on the training team, and come on the road with the team as support crew members, said Katie Crowe, Tour de Rock co-ordinator.

There are about six to 10 members on the support team, which breaks down to a road boss, escort vehicle drivers, feeders and drivers of the motorhome and the one-tonne full of equipment.

“We are very much on board with providing riders for the tour, to make sure the tour runs efficiently,” Mayo said.