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Local doctor ready to join grandmothers in annual ride

Photo by Marissa Tiel/Campbell River Mirror

Marissa Tiel, Campbell River Mirror, September 5th, 2019. Read the story here. 

“After reading about the ride for years, a local mom is finally getting her chance to take part in Vancouver Island’s Grandmothers to Grandmothers annual fundraising bike tour.

“I always was really inspired seeing the picture in the paper of the older women hopping on their bikes (and) riding down the Island,” says Erika Kellerhals.

She had to wait for a few factors in her life to line-up. Chief among them was waiting to be old enough.The Grandmothers to Grandmothers (G2G) has a minimum age of 55, so all the women that are embarking on the three-day day ride from Campbell River to Victoria on Friday are at least 55 years old.

Kellerhals, now 56 and a mom to three teenagers, became involved with the local G2G chapter through her own mother, Heather Kellerhals-Stewart, but she’s always donated to the Stephen Lewis Foundation – the charity the ride supports.

The Stephen Lewis Foundation’s Grandmothers campaign helps African grandmothers provide shelter, food, and education for children orphaned by the AIDS pandemic.

“I think they do amazing work in Africa,” says Kellerhals. “I think they really partner well with grassroots organizations over there and are able, in a really not top-heavy fashion, to help in the most locally-appropriate way.”

As a local addictions doctor, Kellerhals has first-hand experience with the struggles AIDS patients have.

“I see in a developed country with a lot of resources how hard it is to keep things on track; how hard it is battling stigma; how hard it is to help people to keep hope; how hard it is for people to maintain connection,” she says. “My local lens is so microscopic and miniscule compared to what they’re dealing with in Africa.”

The Stephen Lewis Foundation estimates that more than 13.3 million children under the age of 17 have been orphaned by AIDS in Africa, the majority of which live in the sub-sahara region. The foundation says that in many of those countries, an estimated 40-60 per cent of orphans live in grandmother-led households.

In addition to raising this generation of children, African grandmothers have led community-based initiatives to support food growth, income generation, health support and education and to lobby their governments for more rights and services.

The local chapter of G2G has been around for 12 years, nearly as long as the the Stephen Lewis Foundation’s Grandmothers campaign, which began in 2006.

Kellerhals is no stranger to physical challengers.

She was once an avid triathlete and logs between 120 and 200 kilometres on her bike every week.

“I find biking really relaxing and meditative,” she says. “I try to go early in the morning when there are not many cars.”

She says biking was always her strongest event and she’s wanted to do more fundraising events for a while. Earlier this year, she took part in the Cycle for Life, which supports hospice care.

She says it feels more meaningful to be able to combine her love of being active with giving to a cause that’s larger than herself.

There are three Campbell Riverites taking part in the ride. Kellerhals will join Karen King and Mary Lou Mahoney, who have both done it in the past.

Kellerhals says she set a fundraising goal of $5,000 for herself. She’s more than halfway there.

RELATED: Campbell River grandmothers ride again

“I do find it hard asking people for money,” she says. “I’m able to get over it when I believe in the cause and I believe that good work is happening.”

The ride heads out from Rotary Park at 7:30 this morning.

Kellerhals is looking forward to the challenge of the 275 km ride and spending more time with the G2G team, which includes 31 women.

“I think I’m going to be digging down deep to think about those grandmothers in Africa doing all the good work they do with what little resources they have and how hard they work, and push a little harder on the pedals.”

She expects it to be an emotional finish when they pull into Victoria Sunday.

“When I finished the hospice cycle… I had tears streaming down my eyes the last kilometre,” she says. “I suspect it’s going to feel like that.”

Donations to support the riders can be made here: https://slf.akaraisin.com/pledge/Team/Home.aspx?seid=18692&mid=10&tid=227660”

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