During a four month contract at the MS Society, I had the incredible opportunity to interview eight incredible participants in the RONA MS Bike Tour. These are their stories.
As you ride in the RONA MS Bike Tour – Acton to Waterloo, don’t be surprised as two Vikings pedal past on their bikes. Known as the ‘Biking Vikings,’ Paulette and Laurent have participated in the tour for the past seventeen years and for the past eight have done so wearing horns on their helmets and blond, braided wigs on their heads.
“It was just a joke that our son started,” recalls Paulette. “The following year, my hubby and I said, ‘Oh what the heck!’ Because of it, people recognize us year after year. It’s just a fun thing.”
It was this silly gimmick that brought them to my attention, but their sense of adventure and mutual affection for each other is where the story of this couple of grandparents in their late 60s becomes truly remarkable. So in early July, I called them at their home in Georgetown to hear the story of Paulette and Laurent. And that story starts on TV.
The local CKSO Television Station had a half-hour television program in 1964 called The CK Singers. It was a variety show similar to Hootenanny, in which different singers and musicians performed over the course of the episode. I further probed into the earlier embers of their relationship, “When did you realize that this was it?” In response all I heard was Laurent’s soft laughter.
“Are you married?” he asked. I confirmed I was not and he sighed knowingly before he answered, “Well when you are, you’ll know. It’s just one of those mysteries.”
In those early years, there was no way of knowing all of the adventures that this couple would embark on together. The pair has scuba-dived in the Caribbean, in the ocean off Jamaica, and along the Great Barrier Reef. They’ve kayaked and canoed in Killarney Provincial Park, around the Queen Charlotte Islands on the coast of British Columbia, and down the Nahanni River in the wilderness of Northern Canada. They’ve hiked along the Milford Track in New Zealand, the Rocky Mountains North of Calgary, and Econolodge in Brazil. And of course, they’ve also cycled. They have toured Southern France, Italy, Austria, and Denmark on their bikes. They also rode from Jasper to Banf, a nine day excursion, and they’ve mountain biked in the jungles of Costa Rica.
“We like the tough stuff,” Paulette explained simply. In comparison the RONA MS Bike Tour – Acton to Waterloo is a breeze. As a pharmacist, Paulette has seen many of her patients come in with MS. When she saw a brochure for the ride, and since her and her husband were already avid cyclists, she jumped at the opportunity to help out while doing something she loves.
“We thought we’d just do it for fun and we’ve managed to continue doing it every year since,” explained Paulette. “It’s the greatest thing since sliced bread… Seriously, I’d really encourage anyone who’s interested. First, the cause is a good one, and secondly it’s fun. You guys are so well organized, and I’m not just saying that!”
While the adventure of the RONA MS Bike Tour does not always compare to some of this couple’s other stunts, they do look back at even the hardest tour fondly. They recall the RONA MS Bike Tour in 1999, when they biked into the headwinds all the way from Grand Bend to London, only to have the storm turn around overnight. In 2001, Paulette described the tour as “incredibly cold and damp and windy.”
“More than damp! It was pouring rain,” Laurent piped up.
But always the optimist, Paulette added, “We had a nice massage at the end… those are great!”
The Northeast Black Out of 2003 cancelled their 150km ride and they did the 75km Niagara ride instead. They were astonished by the difference. Paulette recalls, “Niagara was so easy! It was incredible the difference. The Niagara one was totally flat and just one day.”
Laurent agrees and adds, “That was just a fun day.”
Last year’s ride, Paulette was not able to participate. After raising nearly $3,000, Paulette hit a pot hole during a tour in Madrid, Spain and careened off her bike. While she had her hip replaced with titanium and couldn’t ride, she still came out on event weekend, brought in her pledges, and cheered at the finish line. This year she’s raring to go!
“Because I was so fit, my prognosis was 100%,” she explained. “I decided I’m not going to stay down here forever! So I got back up, did my physio, and this year I’m back out again!”
This year you’ll find the couple once again out on their bikes, wearing their Viking horns and wigs, and belting folk tunes that one may have heard on some variety TV show they used to play in the 1960s. With all the mountain tops and white water rapids this couple has conquered together, they’re still riding strong to end MS.