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Suzanne Jolly’s story

October 4th, 2012

Donor tests her lungs in memory of a friend

Suzanne Jolly had never attempted a race in her life before she took on the 67-kilometre Test of Metal mountain bike course in Squamish, but she had powerful motivation. She was raising funds and awareness in honour of her friend Glenn Ashenden.

Ashenden passed away in 2010 due to complications related to cystic fibrosis (CF), a disease with no known cure that creates devastating respiratory problems and interrupts the digestive system. CF makes patients prone to lung infections like pneumonia and typically halves their average life expectancy.

Although Jolly had known that Ashenden had CF, its significance still hadn’t sunk in when he missed her annual Thanksgiving feast and she came to drop off soup for him at St. Paul’s, where the provincial Adult Cystic Fibrosis (CF) Program is based.

“I remember very clearly walking into St. Paul’s Intensive Care Unit with this Tupperware container of turkey soup and I still hadn’t clued in that Glenn was so sick. Because in my mind, Glenn had pneumonia and I hadn’t got to the point of putting two and two together,” says Jolly.

She recalls his last text to her, sent after he received her gift: “Thanks Jolly. You’re too good to me.”

After Ashenden passed away, Jolly decided to honour him by participating in the Test of Metal, where Ashenden had been a long-time volunteer, to raise funds for cystic fibrosis care and awareness of the disease. Jolly took on the grueling race despite the fact she had only been riding for two years.

“I refused to compete in anything before the Test of Metal. I declared that it would be the first race of my life.” Jolly says. “I just never had any concept of how hard it would be.”

Limited to 800 participants per race, the Test of Metal cross-country course includes more than 1,200 meters of climbing and 35 kilometers of single-track. The race requires riders to meet the cut-off time at two check-in points, the second of which was near the top of a punishing nine-mile uphill stretch.

On June 16, 2012, Jolly battled miserable weather and a muddy course to complete the Test of Metal – making the second cut-off point mere minutes before the deadline.

“That’s when I had a good cry and had the realization that I’d lost my friend – that this was me riding in his memory and saying good-bye to him on that course,” says Jolly.

In addition to the accomplishment of finishing the race, Jolly raised almost $2000 for the Glenn Ashenden Tribute Fund, which was created by his family to raise money towards purchasing new equipment to help lung and CF patients at St. Paul’s.

“St. Paul’s had a pretty significant part in the end of my friend’s life,” Jolly says. “People live amazing lives with CF if they’re able to get the right care. The idea that Glenn lived a life in Squamish dirt biking and snowboarding is a credit to the health care system. But our research and our medical treatment need to improve for cystic fibrosis.”

Interested in fundraising in support of St. Paul’s efforts in teaching, research and care?

Suzanne Jolly shares some tips that led to her successful fundraising in honour of Glenn Ashenden for Cystic Fibrosis care at St. Paul’s:

Get online. “My blog was huge for me. I had two donors find out about the fundraiser through Googling Glenn’s name and discovering my blog.”
Engage with St. Paul’s Foundation – we’re here to help! “Connecting with St. Paul’s, even just support from Twitter, was really lovely, to feel like I wasn’t just one person. It can be pretty isolating doing a fundraiser all on one’s own, so having a larger institution showing their support in that way, by re-tweeting your tweets, really meant a lot.”
Use every opportunity to speak about your cause; you never know where you’ll find support. “I recommend telling as many people as possible. When I dropped into the bike shop locally, I told them why I was doing the Test of Metal ride, that it wasn’t just a bike race for me. People kicked in a water bottle, or listened to the fact that it was for St. Paul’s or CF and asked about that or shared a story in return.”
Be visible with your cause to spark conversations about your cause. “The only reason I made the second cut-off point was because a stranger was biking beside me who knew why I was riding and encouraged me up the hill. Everyone saw the sign on my back and asked me about it and found out that I was riding for my friend and for CF.”
Be aware of the personal investment of time and finances you may need to make. “People don’t realize how much personal time and money goes into fundraising … so people who are thinking about fundraising should take that into consideration, and whether they have the necessary equipment.”
Don’t be too hard on yourself – you’re making a difference. “I had many times where I was crying during the training, just feeling the pressure of ‘I need to do this ride well’ in my friend’s memory. Eventually I had to come to the point where I could say, my friend would never want me to be unhappy in his memory so I need to ease up and be okay with doing the ride however I manage it.”
Push yourself. “Think big. I’m constantly amazed what our bodies are able to do when we ask them to do it.”