By Lisa Bucher
Erin George has never taken a back to anything in her life, so learning how to ride a tandem bike was a challenging experience for her, not physically, but emotionally and psychologically. She noticed changes to her vision at 19 years old when she moved to Toronto to attend Ryerson University for journalism. She was diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa at the age of 25.
The first time George felt disabled by her vision loss was when she had to stop riding her bike. Before vision loss took her off the road, she was on her bike all the time. It was her primary mode of transportation. So, Cycle for Sight was a good fit for her to reclaim that in a positive way by riding tandem with her spouse as the pilot. Erin
was told there was nothing that could be done about her vision loss, which she found incredibly disempowering.
“I wanted to do something,” she said. “Participating in Cycle for Sight to raise funds for vision research allowed me to do something about my vision loss. It has been a very empowering experience for me.” Cycle for Sight also allows her to talk about her vision loss.
“It’s such a difficult subject and in the beginning an invisible disability,” said George. “Having the conversation out of the blue can be very awkward, but having the conversation based on my participation in Cycle for Sight means that the conversation is on a position note and it means that the person I am speaking with can actually do something to show their support for me and my struggle.
A handful of individuals, including Michael Ovens (who currently co-chairs the event), who are visually impaired, started the event. It was their goal to be actively involved in helping raise funds for vision research and to increase awareness to help find a cure. In 2009, there were 45 riders and last year there were 484 riders who participated in three cities across Canada. “We hope to have at least 700 riders this year between all four events,” said Dr. Ana Juricic, Co-Chair of the event. The ride caters to cyclists of all abilities by providing multiple distance options. “Cycle for Sight is a unique event in that visually impaired and completely blind riders, can cycle alongside sighted solo and tandem riders of varying cycling abilities,” said Dr. Juricic.
“Family members, friends, eye care professionals, industry suppliers and just pure cycling enthusiasts all come together for this perfect one-day ride.”
Since 2009, Cycle for Sight has raised $2.2 million and last year alone $700,000 was raised. This year the event has expanded to include four cities: Toronto (Sat June 20), Ottawa (Sunday May 31), West Langley, BC (Sat June 6) and for the first time Calgary (Sat Sept 12).
First and foremost, “There needs to be an increased awareness of all the amazing progress that has happened in vision research especially in terms of stem cells and gene therapy,” said Dr. Juricic. What many people are not aware of is that the Foundation Fighting Fighting Blindness (where all proceeds go from Cycle for Sight) helps support
most of the research that is happening in Canada. “By having people learn of the great work that the Foundation Fighting Blindness has contributed to vision research in Canada over the past 40 year, I am sure the direct result will be increased support and fundraising,” she said. So that more research projects can take place and hopefully lead to a cure for some retinal eye diseases.
This event is a great opportunity for eyecare professionals to give back to all of their patients especially those living with vision loss. “As a Low Vision Optometrist this cause is especially dear to me,” said Dr. Juricic.
There are cures and/or new treatment options in the horizon. It is through supporting more research projects that these options will become reality.
“We always tell new participants that Cycle for Sight is not a race,” said Michael Ovens. “But in a way, it really is a race. A race to be the last generation living with incurable blinding eye diseases.”
By Lisa Bucher