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Cancer survivor’s journey back to cycling ‘symbolic’

CANMORE – It’s obvious to those who know Canmore cyclist James Kendal when he’s in full race prep mode. “My wife knows I’m going into a race because my mindset changes,” Kendal said. “I start organizing all my stuff, training, resting, and all that.
Crit mens 3 Kendal_0093
James Kendal leads two groups of cyclists on the criterium track in downtown Canmore in 2015.

CANMORE – It’s obvious to those who know Canmore cyclist James Kendal when he’s in full race prep mode.

“My wife knows I’m going into a race because my mindset changes,” Kendal said. “I start organizing all my stuff, training, resting, and all that.”

It’s been apart of the 51-year-old’s process for years, and as he prepares for the Canadian Masters Road Cycling Championships in Victoria, B.C. from June 7-9, it’s not just the same preparation for Kendal, but a sign of things returning back to normal.

Kendal, a cancer survivor, has been steadily working his way back to the top of the mountain among Bow Valley road racers.

“It was pretty joyful,” Kendal said about getting back on a bicycle and pedaling for the first time, after being diagnosed with colorectal cancer in July 2017.

According to the Canadian Cancer Society, in 2017 an estimated 26,800 Canadians were diagnosed with colorectal cancer – about 73 a day. The disease is genetic and can be triggered by external influences such as stress and diet.

The seven-centimetre long tumour inside Kendal, which he described as “like an alien inside of me,” was caught “just in time” and surgically removed in November 2017, after six months of chemotherapy.

“I looked really bad up until surgery,” he said. “About a month after surgery I started to look normal again.”

As of June 2019, doctors have told Kendal that things are going well and he’s under observation with check ups every three months.

Kendal, who is a co-owner and general manager at Canmore’s Tapas restaurant, said when he got sick, there was “no question” there would be emotional and business support for him throughout his journey.

The Rundle Mountain Cycling Club, which he is the former president of, held a fundraiser for him.

Wendy Simpson, who co-owns Tapas, showed support for Kendal as well and said it was scary to get the call about his diagnosis.

“We stepped up because he’s a great employee and great person and it was a way of giving back to him,” Simpson said. “We became much closer because of it.”

She said getting back to road racing has been the number one goal for Kendal.

“In that first week, I was diagnosed and the toughest thing that came to me first was I was going to lose my family,” Kendal said. “And then it came to me, ‘Ah shit, I’m not going to race again.’ ”

Kendal used it as motivation. He beat cancer and was going to get back on the bike for road races – even if the “roadie” was starting from scratch and had to negotiate with his surgeon a little bit.

As part of the process, Kendal’s gastrointestinal system was shut off for a year and he had a bypass for a colostomy bag – which made things difficult for biking.

“I was told I was going to have a permanent colostomy,” he said. “I had to fight with my surgeon to reconsider that and to make that decision later.”

After surgery, Kendal was able to return to his normal routines for road racing.

For him, talking about his experience with cancer has been healing. Kendal said it’s made him a better person and changed his outlook on life.

“There were some dark days when you’re sick that you think, ‘Ah, screw it, I’m not going to race again and I’m just going to enjoy my life or live leisurely,’ but it was the opposite for me,” Kendal said. “My main purpose is to set a good example – I’m a father, a husband, a leader involved in the community and one of the things important going through the cancer journey and the fight was being able to share it with other people, to set an example and to tell people you can survive and you have to advocate for yourself.”

For the national races in Victoria, Kendal has been training 10-12 hours weekly since Feb. 1 and is competing in three events over three days – the individual time trial, criterium and road race.

He’s also been preparing for the provincial road race this July, which has a symbolic meaning for the cyclist.

Two years ago, he finished second at the race. The next day, he was diagnosed with colorectal cancer. One year later, Kendal was back on the bike for provincials and finished in last, but he crossed the line. This year, he has a new goal at provincials.

“I don’t plan on being at the back of the pack, I plan on being at the front end of the pack,” he said.

For more on Kendal, the avid cyclist shares his experiences on life in his blog.

Jordan Small

About the Author: Jordan Small

Jordan Small joined the Outlook in 2014 and covers the vast world of sports in the Bow Valley. A Barrie, Ont. native, he also wrote for RMO's Mountain Guide section and the MD of Bighorn beat.
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