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Port Moody firefighters swap fire helmets for bike helmets to support one of their own

A dozen firefighters will be riding their bikes from Port Moody to Harrison Hot Springs to raise money for the Canucks Autism Network
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Port Moody firefighter Steve O'Brien, left, is leading a peloton of 12 firefighters from his department and Burnaby on a 150 km ride to Harrison Hot Springs to raise money and awareness for the Canucks Autism Network.

A dozen firefighters are turning in their fire helmets for bike helmets to raise money for the Canucks Autism Network (CAN).

The firefighters — 10 from Port Moody Fire Rescue and two from the Burnaby Fire Department — will be pedalling from the Inlet Centre fire hall to Harrison Hot Springs on Aug. 28.

The 150 km journey isn’t just a physical challenge; it’s also a personal commitment to support one of their own, said Steve O’Brien, who's organizing the ride along with Shane Knittle.

A captain in the Port Moody department has a daughter on the autism spectrum.

And when a group of firefighters that also happens to enjoy cycling was casting about for a project to motivate their training, they thought about the benefits CAN has brought to their colleague and his family.

“We’re all connected to someone on the spectrum,” said O’Brien, an avid recreational cyclist who often rides his bike to work at the fire hall.

The peloton he’s assembled ranges from enthusiastic newbies who haven’t turned a crank in years to competitive triathletes for whom a 150 km ride is all in a week’s training.

Getting such a disparate range on the same page for preparation has been a bit of a challenge, O’Brien said.

“Everyone is on a different shift.”

Most of the riders have been able to build their base mileage by cycling to work from their homes in Pitt Meadows, Maple Ridge, Port Coquitlam, Burnaby and Vancouver.

One of those is Dave Maginnis, who said he’s long had an epic cycling challenge on his bucket list.

When he signed on for the group ride, he started commuting by bike from his home in Pitt Meadows, then training more intensely on his days off.

So far, he said, his longest ride has been 66 km.

More than doubling that in a single day is a little daunting.

“Sitting on a bike for hours sounds pretty painful.”

But with the callouses and muscles building from his regular commutes, Maginnis said the longer distance doesn't seem quite as intimidating.

“Honestly, it feels weird driving now.”

Jay Miles, a Burnaby firefighter, said three months ago he hadn’t straddled a road bike.

But running had taken a toll on his back, so when he heard of the autism ride he shifted gears and embraced his new exercise regime, heading out for long rolls to Fort Langley and beyond.

“It feels like a competition with myself,” Miles said of pushing his distance toward triple digits. “This is my new addiction. We’ll see where it takes me.”

O’Brien figures it will take the group around six hours to reach their destination. They’ll be supported by a couple of volunteers in vehicles who can keep them fuelled and get them moving again in case of a mechanical problem.

The fundraising goal is $10,000 and O’Brien said he hopes other fire departments will take notice and join future efforts, just like other first responder groups ride to raise money for cancer research.

“The riding is hard,” O’Brien said. “But it’s a great way to build a team.”

• To learn more about the Port Moody Fire Rescue ride for autism, or to make a donation, go to their special page on the CAN website.