Story by Francella Fiallos –
Sitting on his sofa with his mouth slightly agape, Irwin Waldman analyses a portrait of himself that was taken during one of six fundraising rides he’s completed over the years.
In the picture, Waldman and his bike fill up the entire frame. He’s clearly feeling triumphant: riding the road with no hands, a big smile on his face, and arms fully outstretched.
Waldman points to his arms in the photo. They are covered by sleeves.
“It must have been cold that morning,” he says. “And there’s my flag right at the back of my helmet. It’s a pain in the butt on a bicycle.”
The flag is supposed to symbolize the rider’s victory over cancer, a disease that has touched Waldman – and his whole family – after he contracted bladder cancer in 1981 and again in the early 90s.
After approximately seven years of non-stop treatment, examination and surgery, Waldman was clear in 2007.
“It just means that the department of urology, I think, is terrific. They deserve a little boost,” he says. “It’s just a little payback.”
To Waldman, a “little payback” would amount to $12,000 over six years.
Even though his story continues to be an inspiration for the Ottawa community, Waldman is not fazed by it at all.
“It’s unusual for an 80-year-old to be fundraising. I don’t think it’s such a big deal,” he says from his living room on Botanica Private near the Civic Hospital. “If it helps the foundation to do more effective treatments, I’m game.”
At 86, Waldman’s ability as a cyclist is unbelievably impressive. His cadence, or the average pedalling rate, is 80 revolutions per minute.
The oldest member of his cycling club, he often zips right past them as he completes the 100-kilometre Ride the Rideau in simply four hours.
“It started out as a bunch of us but then I hollered to the group leader that I was going ahead, and I’m gone.”
To help him achieve his ideal speed, it’s no question that Waldman needs a worthy bicycle.
The bike that he uses for the ride was a gift from his wife on his 70th birthday.
“It’s a nice bike: custom-built, chrome alloy, and it’s the bike I’ll keep on riding with.”
While he uses a hybrid bicycle – or as he calls it, his “taxi” – for his day-to-day activities, his racing bike is safely stored in a locker and is never far from Waldman’s sight.
Looking back at his picture, Waldman can only characterize cycling and his advocacy work for the Ottawa Hospital Foundation with a simple yet powerful sentiment.
“It’s such a good time when I do this. I’m just having an absolute ball riding with a group like that.”
The fundraising, inspiration, and activism are all just extras.
Still, Waldman believes that he has a role to play in helping the Ottawa Hospital Foundation as a senior citizen.
“I wish I could make my story about the senior citizens in Ottawa,” he says. “It all benefits the seniors.”
If every senior citizen donated $10 to the foundation, the result would be staggering, says Waldman.
“Things happen, you got to go and get repaired somewhere. The older you get, the more that gets wrong with you,” he says.
With that in mind, an impetus can be placed on older residents and cancer survivors to support the foundation.
Waldman first participated in the Ride for personal reasons, but now he says, it’s mostly to encourage senior citizens like him to support the Ottawa Hospital Foundation.
“Seniors, this is good for you,” he pleads. “To me, [supporting the foundation)] is a winner all the way around.”
In the meantime, Waldman is comfortable with his regular 60 kilometre rides up the Gatineau Hills while being one of the many recognizable faces of the tour.
Waldman has obviously come a long way from secretly riding his brother’s bicycle in the driveway to joining a bicycle club in Montreal, and hiking in the Alps in his 50s.
His fundraising goals and story has captivated people in the community and has piqued the interest of local media. He welcomes the attention he has received, but for him, it really is all about racing.
“The ride in the fall is exhilarating,” he says. “That hasn’t changed.”