The last day of a long bike ride is always bittersweet for Graham Tait.
Tait, who completed the coast-to-coast national kids cancer ride a few years ago, pedalled into Prince Albert Sunday on the final day of his trek from Calgary to Emma Lake to raise money for the Alberta Children’s Hospital Foundation and for the Ronald McDonald Family Room at the Victoria Hospital.
The eight-day journey took Tait across parts of Alberta and Saskatchewan, helping him raise funds and awareness for his causes.
“I’m feeling pretty excited,” Tait said during a lunch hour stop at the Family Room Sunday.
“The last days are always bittersweet because you put in all this work, now you’re feeling pain and gain, and you have some wonderful times and some adversity. That all comes to an end and it’s back to regular life. But I’m feeling really excited to be here, I think the family room is a wonderful place.”
Tait’s ride was inspired in part by Mason Gariepy, the seven-year-old Prince Albert boy who lost his battle with cancer. Tait met Gariepy twice, and his spirit joined Tait on the open road.
The Gariepys were frequent patrons of the Ronald McDonald House and Room, which became their home away from home during Mason’s trips to the hospital.
“I think (the room) is important because a lot of families come from small towns, farms and rural areas,” Tait said.
‘Thinking of a family with a very ill child, having to travel those distances and go through all the stress at the same time is unimaginable. (The rooms and houses) are a lifesaver for many kids and their families.”
Tait said the family room felt calm, and he said he loved the décor.
‘It’s just beautiful. If I was the family of a sick child and I walked in here, I’d be feeling so relaxed and at ease and that everything is going to be okay.”
Mason’s mother, Gale Gariepy, said she was humbled when Tait contacted her about doing part of his ride for the Ronald McDonald Room in Mason’s memory.
‘We always thought we were on this journey by ourselves,” she said. The family met with Tait in the back of a Sears right after Mason’s diagnosis, and then again at the hospital in Calgary.
“We just try to do everything we can to keep (Mason’s) memory alive. When Graham approached me about this, it was just amazing.”
Gariepy said the Ronald McDonald rooms and houses were key during Mason’s battle.
“We don’t know where we would have been physically, emotionally or financially without the Ronald McDonald houses,” she said.
“Mason was in Saskatoon for eight mots, Calgary for six. Then, when he relapsed, we were back in the Ronald McDonald House again. It kept our family close. We met amazing families we could lean on and they could lean on us.”
Gariepy said she encourages others to donate to the Ronald McDonald House charities.
“There are so many charities out there, but these ones affect the staff at the hospitals, the families and the other kids that aren’t sick,” she said.
“It’s a safe place for these kids to go to feel normal.”