Veterinary Surgeon Cycles for a Cause

Annual bike events support children with cancer

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Prof. Tom Gibson

Prof. Tom Gibson

About 10 years ago, clinical studies professor Tom Gibson took up road cycling – and loved it. One of his cycling buddies suggested he join in a fundraising event in 2005 called “Ride for Karen.” The route was 100 km, and the participants raised money for cancer research.

“I was mostly excited about riding that far,” says Gibson. He hadn’t thought a lot about the cause, but he did raise $3,000. Then something else happened: at the beginning and end of the ride, there were dedications where people spoke about their experiences with cancer. “I was so moved by the families who were dealing with children who had cancer that it was like something switched on for me. I thought: I can do this. I can raise money for this cause.”

The following year he rode in Tour for Kids, an Ontario event that raises money for the Coast to Coast Against Cancer Foundation. The tour involves riding 800 km over four days. He was hooked and has ridden in that event every year since, except the year he had knee surgery. Gibson plans to ride in this event again Aug. 14 to 17.

He says people are often surprised to find out that he didn’t even have children at the time he began his involvement with the Coast to Coast Against Cancer fundraising group. That’s changed. He now has almost three-year-old twin boys he describes as “firecracker redheads.”

The Coast to Coast organization is devoted specifically to cancers affecting children and does no third-party fundraising, so all donations go to the cause.

The Tour for Kids event supports three camps in Ontario where children with cancer can participate in all the usual fun camp activities, while still continuing any needed medical treatments.

Gibson also rode in the Sears National Kids Cancer Ride in 2010. In that event, cyclists ride 7,000 km from Vancouver to Halifax over 17 days and fundraise for research into cancers that affect children. Overnight, the participants sleep on wooden bunks in Sears trucks. Gibson describes the event as “amazing” and says he hopes to do it again when his twins are older. He’s also ridden at least one leg of the route with the national riders each year since 2009.

Closer to home, Gibson began organizing the Guelph Inside Ride in 2010. It’s held in the Summerlee Science Complex atrium on stationary bikes. “The music is blaring, people are dressed in funny costumes and everyone enjoys it,” he says.

“We raised $55,000 in 2010 in support of my national ride (for Coast to Coast) and over $200,000 in six years.” Again, because all the work is done by volunteers, the money donated goes directly to the children and families who need it.

With that dedication to the cause, it’s not surprising that when Gibson’s 50th birthday was approaching last year he saw another opportunity to raise money to help kids with cancer. In the late 1980s, Gibson had been part of a rockabilly roots-punk band in Toronto called Pogo Rodeo. Their drummer, Tyler Stewart, later became famous as the drummer for the Barenaked Ladies. Gibson and his fellow band members, who have remained friends over the years, decided to have a reunion 25 years later at Van Gogh’s Ear in Guelph and used the opportunity to do a bit more fundraising. The concert was repeated this year and has raised about $7,000 in total.

“Tyler went on to fame and fortune in his musical career, and the rest of us continued our academic careers,” says Gibson, “but we still have a passion for music and we had a lot of fun at those concerts.”

Gibson is a three-time U of G graduate: B.Sc.(Agr.) ’86, DVM ’95 and D.V.Sc. ’09. His first career was as a school teacher, which he left to become a veterinarian and returned to school to train as a specialist after several years in a general small-animal practice. He did his internship and residency, then worked at a referral practice in small-animal surgery in Toronto, but found he was yearning to do more. Gibson joined the Ontario Veterinary College faculty in 2007, initially in general surgery. For the past five years, he has specialized in orthopedic surgery. He also has an interest in mobility and canine rehabilitation.

“I think my cancer fundraising dovetails very nicely with my work here – my medical training and caring for animals with cancer.”

He continues to be moved by the experiences of children he meets at rides who have cancer or are in recovery. “They don’t usually want to talk much about their illness,” he says. “They like to talk about their camp experience and the bikes and, of course, the discomfort associated with riding so far!”

He has high praise for the Coast to Coast Against Cancer Foundation and its founder, Jeff Rushton. “The survival rate for children with cancer is now as high as 85 per cent,” says Gibson, “and that means these children are going to need help with reintegrating into school and society. They also often need help with medical issues related to their treatment, such as organ transplants, hip replacements and sometimes cognitive issues. Coast to Coast supports kids and families as they deal with these issues.”

For more information about this year’s Tour for Kids, visit www2.tourforkids.com/ontario/.