Battlefield Bike Ride beyond memorable

Capt Jacqueline Zweng (left) and Lisa Magee during the 2017 Wounded Warriors Battlefield Bike Ride.

Capt Jacqueline Zweng (left) and Lisa Magee during the 2017 Wounded Warriors Battlefield Bike Ride.

Peter Mallett, Staff Writer ~

Saddle sore, fatigued and sweaty, Captain Jacqueline Zweng walked up to the Menin Gate Memorial to the Missing in Ypres, Belguim, with a wreath in hand. It was 8 p.m. and she had been asked to represent Wounded Warriors at the nightly service that has occurred uninterrupted since 1928. 

The memorial’s giant triumphal arch and cavernous Hall of Memory on its underside are located at the beginning of the main road that led Allied soldiers to the front line. Within the hall are the names of 54,395 Commonwealth soldiers who died in the First World War, but whose bodies were never found or identified.

It was mid-way through the Battlefield Bike Ride and Capt Zeng was feeling the exhaustion, both mentally and physically, that comes from biking hundreds of kilometres a day across the France and Belgium countryside.

“The Menin Gate was exactly the perspective I needed. Up there on the gate and hall were engraved the names of each of these thousands of soldiers, most of whom didn’t make it past their 25th birthday. Some of them died the first day they walked into the battlefield. That experience made me rethink my own journey in life, the preciousness of life, and how lucky I am to have survived cancer. It’s also given me an overwhelming inspiration and an incredible feeling of confidence going forward to make the most out of every day, moment and second.”

Her journey to France in June to join 140 other cyclists for the 600 kilometre nine-day ride in support of Wounded Warriors really began two years before.

In 2015 she was diagnosed with breast cancer. This led to a partial mastectomy, chemotherapy and IV treatments every three weeks. By March 2017, she felt well enough to take on the Battlefield Tour.

“In the beginning my doctors said you won’t be able to do many of things you have done before, especially ones that are physically gruelling. But I decided that nobody could tell me what I can and can’t do, and I would work day and night in my recovery so I could get back on my bike.”

That tenacity is what placed her in the saddle as she pushed off from Canterbury to Dover, England, to catch the ferry to France. From Calais, her group of 25 riders criss-crossed the country, stopping at historic battlefields and monuments in Flanders, The Somme, and Ypres Salient in Belgium. The entire 140 riders met up at Vimy Ridge for the 100th Anniversary of the Battle of Vimy Ridge.

“It was all beautiful little villages and buildings with thatched roofs, the rolling hills of lavender, wheat and barley, and all the sights and sounds along the way,” she says.

When people approached the riders and asked them about their colourful red cycling jerseys emblazoned with maple leafs and what group they were with, Capt Zweng says she and the other riders always took time to explain.

“We told them a little bit about Wounded Warriors and how they were helping their comrades with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and other mental and physical illness. Most people were enthused, congratulated us and really appreciated the Wounded Warriors stickers and bracelets we gave them.”

She is now back in Victoria and her job as a Cadet Instructor at the Regional Cadet Support Unit, but the impact of that ride still remains.  

“Completing this trip allowed me to remember what I am living for and just how far I have come. Maybe the cancer will come back, maybe it won’t, but the ride gave me an incredible perspective and a new lease on life, and the ability to enjoy the moment, enjoy every day, and make sure it is a positive one.”

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