To mark the 75th anniversary of D-Day, some dedicated Newfoundlanders embark on the Battlefield Bike Ride rasing money and spirits along gthe way
Wounded Warriors Canada’s 2019 annual Battlefield Bike Ride (BBR) took place May 30-June 6, with bicycle riders pedalling from Dieppe to Juno Beach, France.
Featuring stops in historic cities and towns that played a role in World War II and D-Day in 1944, riders learn the important history along the 600+ kilometre route. The BBR ended at Juno Beach on June 6, marking the 75th anniversary of D-Day.
Near to his heart
Two Newfoundlanders, Calgary- based Seal Cove native Todd Martin and Conception Bay South Fire Chief John Heffernan, were among the riders headed to France for the 2019 ride. Speaking to The Herald days before the ride, the pair detailed the many reasons why they’re embarking on this gruelling challenge.
Heffernan has been involved with Wounded Warriors Canada since 2013, having helped facilitate a donation to Wounded Warriors Canada (WWC) from a local charity. It’s a cause near to his heart.
WWC offers mental health programs and resources for military, former military, first responders and their families.
Ecstatic about a donation being made through a charity here in the province, WWC executive director Scott Maxwell travelled to the island for the charity dinner, later asking Heffernan if he would be interested in becoming a provincial co-ordinator for WWC.
Heffernan – the kind of person “who keeps asking the teacher for homework,” he joked – participated in his first Battlefield Bike Ride in 2014. This year marked his sixth ride. “Once I did the first ride, I kind of got the bug.”
‘My military family’
The 2019 ride was the first for Martin.
“I learned about Wounded Warriors Canada through some of my military buddies going through PTSD and their association with therapy dogs,” explained Martin, who spent seven years in the army, doing two tours in former Yugoslavia with the UN and NATO.
“I cycle-commute to work year-round and being able to tie bike riding into a fundraiser for my military family, it was a no brainer.”
To become a part of the BBR19 team, both Martin and Heffernan paid a $500 registration fee, and fundraised a minimum of $4,000 to ride. “I started reaching out to family and friends,” Heffernan said. “After six years, I’ve got a pretty good pool of resources developed to go back to. I won’t say for a second that it’s easy, because it’s not.”
This year, Heffernan even received emails from people wondering if he was doing the ride again, as they hadn’t received a sponsorship inquiry,
“Obviously, they support the cause,” Heffernan said with a laugh.
Martin raised an astounding $17,804 through sponsorships from friends and family members. His employer Encana matched 100 per cent of the workplace donation, totalling about $7,600.
“Anyone who was willing to listen to me heard about WWC, what they do, and how I am fundraising for them. Most of whom I spoke with said they had a connection to military, first responders, or someone working through mental health issues.”
Martin and Heffernan have multiple connections to the cause. Currently a Regimental Seargent Major for the Royal Newfoundland Regiment, Heffernan looks at Wounded Warriors efforts from two perspectives, as someone who has served in the military and as a first responder. There’s a family connection as well.
Heffernan’s grandfather served in the Navy in World War II. Delving through treasured family heirlooms, including his grandfather’s service records, Heffernan wondered if he would ride through any of the places his grandfather had been during the war.
Martin wondered the same. His grandfather served with the 59th Newfoundland Heavy Regiment (Royal Artillery), landing on Juno Beach just one month after D-Day. “I have been doing a lot of research about the route we are taking, the significant spots along the way, and trying to identify points where my path will intersect the path my grandfather travelled during his time in Normandy in 1944 … I will cherish those moments,” Martin shared.
Both Heffernan and Martin’s family, friends, and colleagues are immensely proud of their commitment to BBR19.
“It’s always very, very positive,” Heffernan said. He has a lot of support from his role in the Royal Newfoundland Regiment and his work as a first responder.
“My wife Sharon and son Finn, 9, have been my biggest supports, putting up with the 5:30 a.m. alarms, seeing me in bike shorts and me constantly talking about bikes, the ride, the history, and doing the research,” Martin said.
“So many people send encouraging words, share personal stories as to their connection and why they are supporting WWC,” he said, adding that there are also people who think he is “absolutely nuts,” and that they wouldn’t even want to drive the distance that Martin will be travelling on bicycle.
But recruiting sponsors is only a fraction of the work – fundraising aside, the men had to be physically capable of making the ride.
“There’s no way to substitute for time in the saddle, that’s the long and short of it. You can do all kinds of other things at the gym … but you need seat time to condition yourself, your legs and the rest of your body, for sitting on a bike for that long,” Heffernan explained.
‘Time in the saddle’
“I think our heaviest day this year will be upwards of 160 kilometres essentially, so that’s very ambitious. That’s a long day and that’s a lot of time in the saddle,” he said. “Dieppe to Normandy is far from flat,” Heffernan said with a laugh.
Martin claims to be “not even a little concerned with the pain and fatigue of this ride.”
“I will draw my energy from the strength of those brave soldiers who have given their lives – Not all those who gave their lives died. Most came back a different person,” Martin added.
“I will draw my energy from the courage it took those with PTSD to come forward to ask for help. I will draw my energy in the commitment I made to have their six (military slang for “got your back”) while they fight through mental health issues … This is for them, and their energy leaves me in awe!”