It’s been more than a decade since longtime friends Olivia Mendicino and Julie Ann Chiodo first threw around the idea of cycling across Canada.
Now they’re doing what they’ve always set out to do, while raising funds for idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF) - a progressive form of lung disease - during their ‘Forever Lungs’ cycling fundraiser, which will span five a total of five provinces this summer.
“We saw the sign for Sault Ste. Marie, and it was like this evasive destination, and we finally got here,” said Chiodo.
“We made it!” chimed Mendicino.
The pair began their ride in Vancouver in mid-June, taking them from Vancouver to Ontario.
They expect to conclude their ride for research at Sunnyside Pavilion in Toronto Aug. 8.
Chiodo and Mendicino originally had set a goal of raising $10,000 for the Canadian Pulmonary Fibrosis Foundation, but managed to surpass that goal early on in their journey.
“It was overwhelming at first, our first goal was $10,000, and we reached that in our first week,” Mendicino said.
They’ve now set their sights on a new goal of raising $40,000, with nearly $30,000 of that goal being raised to date.
“The time was right for this summer, for this year, and we just made it happen,” Mendicino said.
Chiodo and Mendicino have known each other since becoming friends on the soccer pitch while growing up in Etobicoke, Ont., and have also played as soccer teammates while attending university in Pennsylvania in the late 1990s.
Mendicino’s father Ettore was diagnosed with IPF years later, and would pass away from the disease in 2014.
Chiodo’s uncle, Carmen Ragno, was diagnosed with IPF in 2014, eventually receiving a successful lung transplant in February.
“Through the years we’ve kind of had it in the back of our minds,” Chiodo said. “We haven’t really done anything about it, and the passing of Ettore...it kind of resurfaced.”
“We thought, ‘let’s do this.’”
The pair is trading off cycling shifts, relay style, with one of them driving while the other cycles.
They’ve been logging 160 kilometres a day, and will have cycled a total of 2,300 kilometres each by the time they wrap up their journey.
Chiodo and Mendocino told SooToday that biking through Saskatchewan was exceptionally tough, braving 37 degree Celsius temperatures and strong headwinds.
“It was a tough few days in the prairies,” Chiodo said. “Different challenges every day, and different areas kind of bring up new challenges.”
The pair was warned about the terrain in northwestern Ontario, but that still didn’t prepare them for the stretch of the Trans-Canada Highway between Nipigon and Sault Ste. Marie.
“There are a few hills, some longer than others,” Chiodo said. “Coming around Lake Superior, the views are just incredible.”
SooToday caught up with Mendicino and Chiodo at Velorution, where Chiodo was in the process of getting a small part on her bicycle replaced before the cyclists depart for Manitoulin Island.
The pair noticed a “fellow cyclist” walking his bike - not to mention his dog - westbound on the Trans-Canada highway somewhere between Wawa and Thunder Bay.
After stopping to ask if the cyclist was alright, it was revealed that he needed a part for his bike, which Chiodo took off of her own bike and gave to him.
It’s been experiences like this that have afforded the pair the opportunity to “see the country in a whole new way.”
“It’s been awesome,” Chiodo said while taking a breather at Velorution. “I mean, we had the opportunity to be outside everyday, which is great.”
More information on the Forever Lungs fundraising campaign can be found here.