Rizos' cancer ride a personal experience
Facing your own mortality at 13 years old can be a jarring experience. Mackenzie Rizos, goaltender for the University of Lethbridge Pronghorns women’s hockey team, did just that – and then she turned into a positive.
Beset by an unexplained series of headaches that spawned two weeks of intensive testing at a Calgary hospital, Rizos feared she was facing a cancerous brain tumour. The tests would eventually prove to be negative and Rizos escaped unscathed, except for a lasting emotional scar.
“It was definitely one of the most trying emotional experiences of my life and in the end I was one of the lucky ones,” she says, noting doctors told her that on average, the hospital saw three children per day diagnosed with cancer. “It gave me a lot of perspective and I knew one day I would try and find a way to give something to help fight the disease.”
At the time, the thought was simply a broad idea but it came into focus last summer when Rizos created Mackenzie’s Bike Across Canada for Cancer, a summer-long fundraising initiative that underscored her commitment to social responsibility.
“It seems to be a disease that no matter who you know, everyone has been touched in one way or another,” she says. “It’s all over the place and I wanted to do something to support all the people around me who have been fighting it and also try and give back in respects to my own experience and how lucky I was.”
The Calgary native had just completed her first year at the U of L and taken a summer job with a Calgary sports store. She remembered her Central Memorial High School cross-country coach who had spent a summer biking across the country as well as the many Terry Fox runs for cancer she had participated in over the years. An idea was spawned to combine the two activities.
Rizos mapped out the distance from Victoria, B.C. to St. John’s Newfoundland, some 7,400 kilometres, calculated how many days she’d have to ride over the summer and with a little arithmetic, determined a 70-kilometre-a-day ride, May 1 through Aug. 15, would hit her target.
She then told anybody and everybody she knew about her plan and implored them to make donations to the cancer foundation of their choice in support.
“I decided not to seek any sponsorship myself. People were asked to just directly donate and that way they could pick the organization they wanted to donate to. I basically told people what the cause was and left it up to them,” says Rizos.
She has no idea how much money was actually raised but after starting a Facebook group to update people on her quest, more than 500 members tracked her progress.
“I’m sure in some ways if I had looked for more publicity, I could have raised more donations but it was more a private fight against cancer for me and my friends. Through Facebook it ended up being my friends and their friends,” she says.
“The thing I found is that a lot of people want to help but don’t really have an outlet to help and once you start creating these opportunities, you maybe inspire some people to help who normally would not have.”
If you get the idea that Rizos gained perspective early in life, you’d be right. It’s also one of the main reasons she chose to attend U of L, because she understood university was more than playing hockey and going to class.
“One of the really cool things that attracted me to the U of L was a sense of community. Everyone that I met when I came here was really supportive and went that extra mile to try and help me,” says Rizos.
“One of the main things that come out of your university life is the connections and the friendships you make and when I looked at a place that would enable me to do that, Lethbridge was the top place, in my mind, that presented that positive atmosphere.”
The U of L community, not to mention the Pronghorns, is that much stronger with Rizos in the fold.
GET THE FACTS
• Rizos is studying accounting in the Faculty of Management and was named an Academic All-Canadian in her first year
• Her initiative spawned other fundraising efforts from friends, including ride-along programs, donations per kilometre and one friend who elicited donations based on the amount of weights they lifted during workout sessions
• The ride was recognized with the Canada West Marion Hilliard student-athlete award
• Rizos reported back to the Pronghorns last fall in the best shape of her life, scoring her highest-ever grade on the VO2 max cardiovascular test and helping her gain a spot on the Canada West second all-star team this past season
• She is not reenacting her ride this summer but plans to find other ways to raise money to combat cancer in the future