A prominent adventurer and author who profoundly touched the cycling community, Ryan Correy died of colon cancer Friday (April 28) in Canmore.
He was 35.
Correy was one of Canada's most accomplished adventure cyclists, completing mind-boggling routes such as the 25,000 kilometre tour from Prudhoe Bay, Alaska to Ushuaia, Argentina, the 4,418 km Race Across America (deemed the toughest in the world) twice, and multiple treks along The Great Divide route. He took a stab at the Olympics, filmmaking, and the stationary bike world record - which took nearly seven days to complete. Some journeys brought glory. Others left him broke. But were all done with purpose.
At 13, he cycled across Canada with his father as part of his 'manhood training.' He was a standout junior hockey player and an AJHL prospect until he quit the sport in frustration. Cycling became his primary passion and, after a revelation in Arizona at 18, he set out on grand adventures.
His memoir, A Purpose Ridden, details incredible feats of endurance, entrepreneurship and, at times, acrimonious relationships with friends and family.
"Most people did know Ryan to be incredibly ambitious and determined ... he always had a goal in mind. Every morning, he had a pot of coffee and read 20 pages to start the day. Aside from that, he was this very tender, loving and caring guy. He truly cared about people around him," said his wife, Sarah Hornby.
"Our dynamic is like couples who love each other. Our life revolved around adventures. We created a life we both loved ... it definitely led to the most fun and adventurous years of my life."
A whirlwind romance swept Hornby up in the cycle of grand journeys. Once Hornby and Correy settled in Canmore, he began to build the bikepacking community, which brought cycling deep into the backcountry, combining it with camping. Correy dreamed big, and was unrelenting in his pursuits.
"Even the way we met, it was so indicative of Ryan and our life together He wanted to live a big life. He flew across the country to meet me - we hardly knew each other. He was a man of grand gestures. There were tender moments, but he did everything in grand fashion," Hornby said.
"As serious as Ryan was about making every day count, he was surprisingly laid back, lighthearted and even silly. He was a humble guy, didn't need much to be happy and wasn't one for material possessions. He was a 'less is more' kind of person."
He founded Bikepack Canada and wrote a book on the subject, detailing many routes around the Canadian Rockies. The book will be published in June. His energy united a disparate group of cyclists.
"For someone who had been in Canmore such a short amount of time, he became so involved in the cycling community right from the get-go. And for me as a bikepacker, he created a Canadian bikepacking community where there was none before," said Megan Dunn, who sits on the Bikepack Canada board. She first met Correy to pick his brain about bikes, and ended up as a part of his organization.
"He lived by his tagline of turning passion into purpose, and took an enormous amount of pleasure both in bringing bikepacking folks together, and inspiring others."
Ryan Draper of Rebound Cycle worked with Correy creating a Bikepack Canada summit and remembers how his arrival changed the local cycling scene.
"Ryan brought a sense of adventure to the cycling community. He's done so much on bikes at such a young age. His books or trail guide project would come up. It spawned ideas and adventure. He was always excited to hear people get excited about adventure," Draper said.
"In Canmore, it can be about going fast ... but for the majority of us, the successes are the ones we have in an adventure. Just going out with a bike and a bivvy sack really wasn't mainstream. Bike shops benefited from his enthusiasm, and now Canmore is a hub for bikepacking."
Correy fought Stage IV colon cancer for the past nine months. Doctors confirmed the disease two days after Correy won the 24 Hours of Adrenalin solo race at the Canmore Nordic Centre. Throughout that race, he was unable to eat solids, and struggled with stomach issues.
As a representative for Hammer Nutrition, he was well aware of his fuelling needs and suspected something was very wrong. Later that week, doctors confirmed the diagnosis.
The news was shocking. Correy was one of the most fit athletes in Canada. He ate mostly organic foods, never smoked and rarely drank. The first time he took drugs, it was the opiates doctors gave him to combat the pain from his cancer.
Shortly after his diagnosis, Rundle Mountain Cycling Club's James Kendal connected with Correy, who, as fate would have it, had a similar hard road ahead.
"We were diagnosed within the same week, with a similar diagnosis. Alicia Evans, my coach, connected us. We started communicating over email," Kendal said.
"The more I learned about him, I was blown away by this guy. He's a true soldier of endurance. I had never heard of anyone doing the thinks he's done. He's a legend," Kendal said.
"In the mountain bike community, he engaged quickly ... He's a leader. One of the things that helped me through my chemo was to read how much he could suffer... I've thought about him every day since summer."
Correy documented his cancer battle on social media, refusing to sugar coat his predicament. Early days were full of hopeful posts and quests for knowledge. Yet as the aggressive cancer spread into his liver, lungs, lymph nodes and ribs, the vast cocktails of chemotherapy were overwhelming. He sought specialists in the United States, but ironically was told he wasn't physically fit enough to travel for treatment.
By February, Correy's cancer had spread to his liver, lungs, lymph nodes and ribs, but he kept sharing his story. Days before his death, gaunt and bedridden, Correy still mugged for the camera, just to make others smile.
"He wanted other people going through something similar to see the other side of his life. Social media is filled with the best and brightest moments of our lives. Ryan believed in being real. He's not one to shy away from the truth or his authentic self, even if it's not an easy thing," Hornby said.
The day before Correy died, Kendal had a final chemotherapy treatment, and will undergo tests this week to see if his cancer is in remission. It's left him with some feelings of guilt.
"I'm old enough to be his father. It's so unfair and sad. Cancer is more aggressive in younger patients. Now I want to see the community build a legacy for Ryan. I'd like to see RMCC build a bursary for grit and endurance," Kendal said.
RMCC's new jerseys pay tribute to Correy, as they are emblazoned with the words A Purpose Ridden, while Draper has a plan for an 'epic ride' to honour his friend. Hornby said the tributes are truly appreciated, as Correy wanted to see others succeed.
"We haven't been here terribly long, and almost half of our time here, Ryan has battled cancer. The community has completely embraced Ryan and myself, right from the get-go. There has been an outpouring of support from friends. It's been amazing. We've never felt alone or isolated," Hornby said.
His family plans to hold a celebration of life ceremony later in May.
"If there was something Ryan wanted in life, he found a way to make it happen, and that is what he would want us all to do," Hornby said.