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Skate4Cancer Video Blog 1 - New Zealand 2010 Skate - So The Story Goes
Skate4Cancer Video Blog 4 - New Zealand 2010 Skate - Mountains
The Development of Skate4Cancer
words by Daniel Tal
Picture your country in its entirety, with all of its cities and highways, deserts and prairies, all of its mountains. Think about the twists and turns that snake over and under, past rivers and through valleys straight into your neighbourhood, along your street and past your house. Now picture a gnarly kid on a skateboard pushing his way through that entire fantasy, and you have Skate4Cancer's Rob Dyer. His vision was large enough to imagine all of those details, adding to them the realities of unpredictable weather conditions, lack of resources, physical fatigue, mental exhaustion and any number of surprises waiting to block the way- and he figured it was doable. It was a crazy idea, and people told him so. But Rob's one of those dreamers, and sometimes their heads are so full of ideas that there's no room left for talk of "impossible". He'll do whatever it takes to fulfill his lofty goals, and I say this with confidence as he slumbers on my grimy futon, which he's been crashing on for the second time in under a year for lack of any better place to stay. So a few years after being shut down Rob started talking big again, but this time it was for real. He was going to skateboard from L.A. to his home town of Newmarket to raise awareness for cancer. The way he saw it was that if his mom was going to fight cancer, then he was going to join her in her struggle the best way he knew how: on a deck. Of course it wasn't just his legs that would push him along the vast distance; he has a past tragically scarred by the realities of cancer. Four months before Rob got on his first skate, he lost his paternal Grandmother to stomach cancer. But before he had a chance to mourn this loss, his maternal Grandmother passed on after her struggle with brain cancer. Suddenly, Rob no longer had a Grandma. And then, after losing two of the most important women in his life, Rob's world was turned upside down; his Mom Wendy joined her mother in death as a result of the same form of cancer. Finally, just before he left, Rob was forced to say a final goodbye to his best friend, also losing him to stomach cancer. Just like that, his loved ones were gone. No more laughs, no more memory making, no more photos. They were all gone, for no good reason.
Now when this devastating disease comes along to tear apart your life and the lives of your loved ones, 8000 kilometers seems a whole lot less crazy. And if you have to push a piece of wood with a couple of wheels that far in order to get kids talking, then you do it. And he did do it... twice. It started in the third month of 2004, when Rob and a team of volunteers met in the city of angels and looked east. Their route would take them over the cliff-hanging highways of the winding California mountains, through the arid Arizona desert and across the roaring Mississippi. But the journey wasn't always hugs and peace signs. There were times of frustration, like living on the streets of New Orleans while he waited for a new vehicle to replace the tour bus they no longer had. After skating twelve hours in the heat, with the constant rush of big rigs blasting past him at 110 kilometers an hour, Rob slept in ditches and on benches so that he could recoup for the next day. And that day would often see him getting swiped by zooming cars or being harassed by stubborn authority. I remember hearing Rob say that 99 percent of cops are amazing people and that the rest are just confused. Quite a diplomatic statement for a guy who was pulled over by a Texas State Trooper who felt inclined to insult, demean and intimidate him. When the officer was finished lecturing, he actually spat his dirty chewing tobacco straight at Rob. Think about the irony there. It wasn't the first time police had hassled Rob. In fact, about once a day he dealt with law enforcement on some level, occasionally resulting in getting cuffed and tossed in the back of a cruiser. The funny thing was that members of the s4c team often roller bladed along with him for support or to snap some photos, yet as soon as the cruisers pulled up they would only grab Rob, leaving everyone else alone.
These situations force us to consider the social factors that contribute to the gnarliness of skateboarding -not jogging or biking- down a highway. It's crazy that even though his ultimate goal was to get people on board, sometimes the only thing that stood between Rob and his dream was the very object he used to it. He would often express confusion about feeling so passionate about his positive mission only to be misunderstood by so many people who accused him of being a criminal and a burden on society, simply because he was a skate rat.
Occasionally it got so intense that the cops would simply shut the team down altogether. After these kinds of situations, Rob had to get in the van and drive to the nearest major city, skipping the road he swore to skate. The team would clock the kilometers, and as soon as they arrived Rob would skate massive city circles until he'd made up for the losses. But I don't think he ever got over the disappointment of driving along the highways he meant to be skating, even though he always covered for those lost Ks. On top of that, if he was going to see the sign reading "Welcome to Newmarket", he would first have to feel the throb of a pressure fracture in his left ankle. The doctor told him to stop, but he didn't. So he skated on through the states, dealing with a tweaked body, getting his van robbed, being tossed to the ground by stray pebbles or speeding cars and facing so many other barriers. But always Rob could picture his family, the people who also struggled without the luxury of being able to quit. He didn't stop because they never had the opportunity to end their struggle. And finally, after a harrowing few months, 20 year old Rob Dyer skateboarded past the finish line in July 2004. He was exhausted, and despite having completed 8000 km of pushing he would describe the skate as a disappointment. Rob had set out to cover not just the distance but the actual road from L.A. to Newmarket. It wasn't his fault and he was aware of that intellectually, but the vision hadn't been entirely met in his eyes. Nevertheless, the learning experience would inevitably help shape the future of his then young organization.
This was about the time that I first started hearing about the skinny little kid who had pushed himself across the border with a regular deck. Soon after the news had reached me, s4c organized a huge concert at Toronto’s Mod Club Theatre in an attempt to promote the cause on an increasingly larger level. Headliner Dallas Green of City and Colour was down, and so was the sold out venue's audience. So I checked it, and begun to witness a burgeoning organization take a new direction. It had started with a focus on fund raising for cancer research, but when Rob saw all the stoked people cheering and dancing at the concert, he realized that he wasn't interested in financial donations but rather voluntary participation. His place in finding the cure would be by inspiring youth and building a community of informed people who were hyped on getting involved and making healthy choices that prevented contracting the disease in the first place. Rob always understood the importance of medical research, but felt that his purpose was to focus more on the preventative lifestyle decisions that were often ignored by many charities. Instead of concentrating on collecting money for research, Rob preferred to inspire people to participate actively by getting their hands dirty. So for four years Rob worked diligently to build up Skate4Cancer's reputation. There was no office to work out of or steady income to make it easy; just Rob and a team of volunteers who supported the cause with whatever talent they could contribute, from designing logos to writing songs about finding a cure.
He spent much of the time traveling around North America with the likes of The Deftones, City and Colour, Alexisonfire, Silverstein, The Devil Wears Prada and Shad by hopping on all sorts of tours and festivals. At these shows Rob would set up a booth stacked with fliers that talked about how to perform a self-breast examination, finding ways to quit smoking and other information that ranged from wearing suntan lotion to eating less fast food. People could grab hella-cheap merch that was sold at cost to supporters, making it clear that s4c wasn't in it for the bills. Anyone who wanted to chat or get a hug and a photo was always given full attention and sent off with a smile and a handful of brochures.
Eventually s4c gained enough momentum to sustain its own annual tour known as The Cure Is Knowledge. Once again packing his life in a bag, Rob and a few bands would cross Canada, visiting towns from Port Hawkesbury to Winnipeg. Every show was free and all-ages to ensure accessibility to anyone who made it out. Each night, bands would stoke up the crowd with music until everybody gathered around to talk about their experiences with cancer in an open and unabashed manner. Rob would teach easy-to-do self-examinations and talk about the importance of knowing our family histories and genetic predispositions to certain forms of cancer. He always emphasized that having a healthy lifestyle and an informed awareness is the best tool in preventing cancer from ever occurring. He taught me how to live on the road when I went with him for the second The Cure Is Knowledge tour. These were the good times, when we could all see the fruits of Skate4Cancer's labours. After every show, as we packed the van full of gear, someone would always approach us to share their stories and experiences with cancer. Some were tragic, some triumphant, but for me the best moments were when young kids would throw their smokes in the garbage and say they were ready. It was working. So Robby kept pushing the cause, couch surfing between tours and serving food to students just to pay the bills. But the road has a strange way, and Rob's feet started itching to get going again. It was time to remind people that the foundations of this growing campaign had always been dreaming big, showing love and working with indefatigable determination to find a cure. This time though, he would focus on Canada. Vancouver to Halifax in 5 months, from the western summer through into the eastern winter.
Now having completed one skate successfully, the team had an idea of what to expect. But as usual there would be more than enough new adventures to keep them constantly guessing. So off they went, and within 4 days Rob had pushed himself to the foot of the Rocky Mountains and begun the process of skating up one only to ride back down and start again. He screamed with joy through every tunnel, and there were plenty. By the time he'd made it out his voice was gone but his resolve stood fast.
It was enough to carry him across the Canadian prairies, which tested his psyche with a never-ending horizon. And once the slopes started returning and Mr.Dyer rolled past the Saskatchewan sign, worries started disappearing. But with them went the shoulder of the highway, and Rob was forced to edge onto the main road.
Embracing this new challenge, Rob pumped down the road all the way to Manitoba. So far there had been ups and downs, yet nothing had managed to stop the trek. Suddenly though, everyone following the tour blog began reading of a familiar challenge harassing Rob and the team repeatedly. The Provincial Police didn't get it, and they definitely weren't happy about a tattooed punk skating over their highways, so they told him so...a lot. Skate4Cancer isn't about causing trouble with the law, but Rob was not prepared to feel the sting of another failure. He had set out to put his foot to every kilometer of the Canadian highway, and he was not going to skate in circles a second time. The team supported his choice to persevere despite the warnings.
Every day that he got out of the van to start, the fear of getting shut down was constantly looming. On top of that, the condition of the highway was the worst so far, and still there was no shoulder. But finishing each day under these conditions made the laughs and chill sessions in the van that much sweeter. And those were the kinds of moments that helped Rob get through the most difficult time of the skate yet. They managed to travel down through Ontario, taking a quick detour to chill in Toronto. When they cruised into town, s4c was welcomed by MTV, which had shut down the longest street in the world so that kids could skate a few Ks with Rob Dyer. Once again, the Masonic Temple filled up with record-breaking attendance to chat with the founder of Skate4Cancer about the cause. It was a brief and refreshing break getting to see his family and friends all cheering him on as he rounded the last portion of the skate. For the rest of the journey, the whole team would face many more challenges, but they were always paired with equally rewarding experiences that balanced out the process of crossing a country on a skate. And so it would come that in mid-November, after a late night session through the blistering cold, Skate4Cancer got there. Welcome to Halifax. No media, no party, just Rob and his team standing outside the van, finished. A while after he returned, Rob and I walked through the quiet backstreets of downtown Toronto talking for hours about the importance of this cause. We sat on curbs and got into the real motives, unbelievable challenges and hilarious moments that accompany the choice to fight for a cure. I kept talking about the second skate and how proud I was that he'd made it, but whenever I said the word "second", I could see Rob get thoughtful. Finally, he explained to me that 5 years ago he'd set out to skateboard across a country to draw attention to the magnitude of cancer but had failed to it according to plan. Only until the Canadian skate did he feel he had actually accomplished his goal. So for Rob, Van to Hali was not a 5 month ordeal but rather the culmination of five years of dedication. And in continuing that fight, he was always amazed and surprised at how big his dream had grown. Now the time has come again, and Skate4Cancer has set its eyes on New Zealand and Australia. Beginning in November, Rob and our crew will cross the planet in a plane en route to the Southern Hemisphere so that he can cross a new continent plus one country riding a deck en route to a cure. Hopefully the tireless efforts of s4c can spread the word of healthy and preventative lifestyles to people everywhere. There still isn't much money or many resources, but there is that same gnarly kid on his skateboard with a picture in his head, and a couple of friends who always have his back. It's time to skate the world, It's time to cure cancer!
Who I'd like to meet:
- Status: Single
- Here for: Friends
- Hometown: toronto
- Orientation: Straight
- Height: 3' 0"
- Religion: Christian - other
- Zodiac Sign: Aquarius
- Children: Someday
SACRED HEART CATHOLIC HIGH SCHOOL
1999 to 2004
- Newmarket, Canada
- Graduated: 2004
- Student status: Alumni
- Degree: High School Diploma
- Clubs: skate4cancer.com help find a cure
- Toronto, CA
- Toronto, CA