At the inaugural Tour des Chutes 15 years ago, Gary Bonacker found himself embracing a Madras man wearing denim overalls and standing next to a bike that had until that day been stored away in the dusty corner of a barn. The man had just shared the story that had brought him to ride seven miles on a hot, mid-July day. His friend had recently died of prostate cancer, and when he’d heard about a new bike event in Bend he’d dusted off the long unused bike. “He needed to honor his friend in this ride.”
Gary founded Tour des Chutes in 2004 following his own cancer diagnosis, and planned the first ride in 2005. Recounting stories like this one stir something deep in his heart, and it is the sense of community and togetherness that mean so much to him leading up to the 15th annual event.
“I’m fortunate to be where I’m at.”
Two things in particular stand out to Gary when asked how it feels to have reached this milestone with the event. “15 years is a long time – a lot of events haven’t lasted that long. And our community is so giving, from the volunteers to the riders, the sponsors – it blows my mind! I flash back to 2005, and I think, ‘we made $37K.’ We’ve exceeded that by so much. I’m proud to be a part of that.”
Since his initial diagnosis in 2004, Gary has surpassed the timeline given him by doctors by eight years. He attributes this in large part to not just his treatment, but also his friends and family, and the great community that surrounds him.
“Living with cancer is better than dying from cancer.”
Last year Gary got on his bike at Tour des Chutes for the first time in 10 years. He rode the 25 mile route, and said he felt more connected to the other participants under the tent than he had in years. One of the most meaningful aspects of the event to him is the yellow rose that survivors collect when they complete their ride. “The yellow rose – you know what, I have or had cancer. This rose reminds me of what I did, and what I accomplished. I cried when I rode, how amazing this was for me and how it moved me.”
Gary plans to ride the 25 mile route again in 2019. And when he does, he’ll remember his journey, and how he got here. He’ll think of his friend Johanna Olsen, for whom the 5K honors, who used to schedule her chemotherapy appointments at the same time as him so that they could be together. He will feel grateful for all the sponsors, volunteers and donors, who despite a plethora of options for their time and resources choose to support our friends and neighbors with cancer in Central Oregon.