Fitz’s Challenge is dubbed Canberra’s toughest long distance cycling event. It tests endurance and pushes riders to achieve personal bests. But for some, the cyclosportive provides an opportunity to excel for others. Three women tell us how helping kids with cancer was all they needed to keep going.
Every October, cyclists from all over Australia and sometimes further afield, descend on Canberra to take on The Brindabella Range with its red stringybark and scribbly gums in Fitz’s Challenge.
Many consider this long distance cyclo-sportive event to be the toughest in the country, due in no small part to the significant amounts of climbing.
Participants have five options to choose from depending on fitness level. The 50 kilometer Tidbinbilla Challenge offers 880 meters of climbing, while the 255 kilometer, dubbed ‘Fitz’s Extreme’, offers 5000 meters of climbing.
Pip Aitken, 61, has done the Fitz’s Challenge eight times, and is committed to supporting the event’s official charity partner, The Kids’ Cancer Project.
The independent national charity supports childhood cancer research. Since 1993, thanks to strong supporters like Fitz’s Challenge riders, the charity has contributed tens of millions of dollars to scientific research projects to help children with many types of cancer.
"Last year I did the 105km,” said Pip. “And while it literally represented an uphill battle, I kept thinking it was nothing compared to the hardships that children with cancer face every day."
“It’s such a great event that really tests your endurance. I love that it’s fully supported with snacks and lunches provided. And I also love that I’m not just doing it for me, I’m doing it for kids with cancer,” said Pip.
Almost 1,000 kids are diagnosed with cancer in Australia every year. In fact, it’s the biggest killer of children by disease in this country.
Childhood cancer is different to adult cancer, and yet, in many instances the same powerful drugs are used to treat it. Over 90 per cent of kids who survive will develop at least one chronic illness as a direct result of their treatment.
Another cyclist proudly wearing the white jersey emblazoned with colourful hexagons in 2016 was 30-year-old Canberra local, Kate Boston.
“It’s great seeing all The Kids’ Cancer Project jerseys out there on the day,” she said. “I like feeling I’m giving back to a worthy cause. I did most of my fundraising at work and it was actually a really good way to meet people!”
Kate fell in love with the sport while holidaying in Italy in 2013.
"My first Fitz’s Challenge was in 2014 and I raised $1,000,” said Kate. “When I got home after my trip to Italy, I wanted to keep cycling but didn’t know where to start, so I signed up to Pedal Power’s New Horizons course."
“New Horizons was a wonderful introduction and got me completely hooked. To keep me motivated I signed up for Fitz’s Tharwa Challenge. The 105km distance meant I had to train, but it wasn’t such a huge challenge that I’d get disheartened.”
In 2016 Louise Willis, 44, also took on the Tharwa Challenge. It was her first Fitz’s.
“I took up cycling last year and was keen to challenge myself to do more; I’d never gone that distance before,” Louise said.
“Friends had registered to do Fitz’s and I kept thinking what an achievement it would be to join them,” she said. “When I signed up I saw the opportunity to fundraise.”
With very little effort, Louise raised $650 through the generosity of her nearest and dearest.
“It was so easy,” Louise said. “I just emailed the link to all my friends and family. Every now and then I’d remind them to donate. When the dollars started coming in I got excited. But then I realised I was totally committed - I had to do everything to get through it so I didn’t disappoint the people who had supported me.”
If you’re planning on doing Fitz’s Challenge this year, take on the much easier challenge and raise some money for kids who are facing the biggest challenge of all.
“Fundraising for The Kids’ Cancer Project was a great motivator to keep me going on Fitz’ Challenge,” said Lousie. “Who doesn’t want to do whatever they can to cure children’s cancer?”