It was 11 years ago that Phil Chew took the reins on the Westside Wheel Up (WWU), the same year that it morphed from a counter-culture bike race into a fundraising event for local charities.
Les Clare, one of the original brains behind the WWU, had a debilitating workplace accident around that time and Chew decided to make the race a fundraiser to help Clare back onto his feet.
“After he’d moved out of the valley, (Clare) fell off a roof, broke his back and beat himself up really bad,” said Chew. “I decided I would take over the race and raise some funds to help him out. After Les finally got his long-term disability and his (workplace) compensation going, he really didn’t need our help anymore. So we made it a fundraiser for the BC Para Alpine Ski Team.”
Chew, who lost his leg to an aggressive form of cancer when he was 25, is a three-time Paralympian and was coach for the BC Para Alpine team until he recently retired.
The WWU has become his annual fundraising event to help nurture disabled skiers into competitive athletes. But after 21 years, the crowded summer event schedule in Whistler has led to so many options for fit Whistler locals, be it the other gruelling mountain bike races like the Nimby Fifty and Test of Metal, or alternative mass participation events like the GranFondo.
“We used to call it the ‘month of pain,’ because all the big bike races like the Cheakamus Challenge and WWU were in September,” said Chew. “Now we’re the only one left. People can pick and choose which races they go to. That’s great for cycling, but it makes it tough for the organizers of these races because the numbers have dwindled.”
But the WWU maintains a core following in the Whistler Valley from both registering competitors and local businesses that support the race with prizes. Proceeds from the event will be again assisting disabled athletes, but cheques will also be handed out to the Whistler Off-Road Cycling Association and the Whistler Cycling Club.
This year the post-race raffle will again have a 2014-15 Whistler Blackomb seasons pass up for grabs, as well as prize packages from the Fairmont Chateau Whistler, Edgewater Lodge and the Four Seasons. In keeping with the grassroots nature of the event, all registration and ticketing for raffles is handled the day-of with awards and prizes given out at the après event at Rainbow Park.
Proceeds from the event will be again assisting disabled athletes, but cheques will also be handed out to the Whistler Off-Road Cycling Association and the Whistler Cycling Club.
“A lot of the people that volunteer are members of those associations, so we’re trying to give back (to them) too,” said Chew. “It’s going to be between three and four thousand bucks that we raise.”
The Westside Wheel Up will be taking registration on Saturday (Sept. 13) at 10 a.m. at Whistler Brewing Co. on Millar Creek Road in Function Junction, where the race will commence at noon. Registration costs $25 and includes an après event at Rainbow Park until 6 p.m.
Anyone interested in volunteering can contact Chew at 604-907-2110 for more information or go to worca.com for details and course map.