News and background stories

First annual Branch Out Bike Tour this weekend in Panorama, BC

Almost two months ago, on May 1, former long track speed skater Justine L’Heureux and a couple of friends set out on what was to become a heroic bike tour all across Canada. They started out from L’Heureux’ hometown, near Montreal, QC, and are planning to arrive in Panorama, BC shortly before the first annual Branch Out Bike Tour on June 25th, 55 days and 4500 km later. They are doing so to help build more awareness of diseases associated with the neurological system, like Multiple Sclerosis and Parkinson’s, and to raise as much money as possible for research of these conditions.

By Jolanda Abbes

With their 4500 km bike trip all across Canada, Justine L’Heureux and her friends not only want to help build more awareness of neurological conditions, but are also helping out L’Heureux’ good friend and co-founder of the Branch Out Foundation, speed skater Crystal Phillips, who was diagnosed with MS herself a couple of years ago. Phillips is organizing this year’s Branch Out Bike Tour, which is the main fundraising event of the Branch Out Foundation. As is stated on its website (http://branchoutfoundation.com/index.php), the Branch Out Foundation “exists to further contribute to the research of new and potentially alternative studies that could help in finding a cure for the various complications of the nervous system”.

Justine L'Heureux and Crystal Phillips

With only a few more days left until June 25th, L’Heureux’ cross-country bike tour seems to be on track. Only last week Phillips welcomed her friend in Calgary, where a lot of the national team speed skaters are based. Among the Calgary-based athletes that support L’Heureux’ journey across the country are Olympic speed skaters Lucas Makowsky and Anastasia Bucsis, who both participated in other MS Bike Tours in the past as part of a team organized by Phillips. This year, however, the Branch Out Foundation has put together its very own Bike Tour. Makowsky, gold-medalist in the Team Pursuit at the Vancouver Games, reflects on the first Branch Out Bike Tour: “I'm really happy for Crystal and everyone involved with creating and organizing the first annual Branch Out Bike Tour. In the time that I've known Crystal, she's never backed down from a challenge and has always looked for new ways to educate the people around her about the challenges she faces. This just takes it to the next level! Unfortunately, I won't be able to take part in the Bike Tour this year but I'm already looking forward to being part of it next year!”

Anastasia Bucsis

Bucsis, a good friend of both Phillips and L’Heureux, is inspired by L’Heureux’ amazing journey to help out a friend: “Justine is such an amazing athlete and person – she lives her life with all of her heart and loves a great adventure. I've never met anyone quite like her – she inspires me to live a better life, and to find pleasure in the smallest of things. Her infectious smile and attitude is contagious. Speed skating was just a stepping stone for her to give back and make the world a better place.”

And Makowsky adds: “It's absolutely incredible that Justine has biked across most of the country to raise money and awareness for diseases associated with neurological systems. Justine is an incredibly energetic person and always has a smile on her face, so it wasn't that big of a surprise when I heard she was doing this to help Crystal's cause. As many of us were driving back from Saskatchewan a few weekends ago (for Brittany and Justin's wedding), we were lucky enough to see Justine and her friends just outside of Swift Current as they were on their way to Calgary. Despite having been on her bike for a few weeks and dealing with some wet weather, I don't think there was a moment when she wasn't smiling. It was truly encouraging to see Justine do such a great thing for Crystal and her new cause. I can't wait to be part of it next year!”

Lucas Makowsky meeting up with Justine L'Heureux and her friends just outside of Swift Current

Want to read more about L'Heureux' adventures during her Tour de Canada? Check out her blog at http://tripletroublebikers.wordpress.com/.

Also, it’s not too late to donate! If you want to pledge your support to L’Heureux and her friends directly, make sure to visit https://www.2mevents.com/index.php/pledge/511. Pledge pages of other participants in the Branch Out Bike Tour can be found at http://www.2mevents.com/event/1st-annual-branch-out-bike-tour/pledges.

Photo credits:
Photo 1: submitted by Crystal Phillips
Photo 2: submitted by Justine L'Heureux
Photo 3:
DESGphoto/Lars Hagen
Photo 4: submitted by Lucas Makowsky