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Why they ride for research

For Caroline and her team from Robarts Research Institute, Big Bike is all about feeling good.
 Caroline O’Neil with her Big Bike team

Team captain Caroline O’Neil gets a ride on the front of the Big Bike.

There’s biking and then there’s Big Bike – riding a bicycle so large it takes 30 people pedaling to move it. Riding a bike this size is big fun – but it also requires big goals. For Caroline O’Neil, a facility manager at Robarts Research Institute and Big Bike captain for the Robarts team, that’s exactly the point.

It was more than a decade ago that Caroline and her teammates in London, Ont., first joined the 70,000 riders from more than 200 communities across Canada who pedal in Heart & Stroke’s Big Bike event. Since then the Robarts team has raised $53,000 to support critical research into heart disease and stroke. 

Caroline has seen first-hand the impact Big Bike fundraising can make, working in the lab of Heart & Stroke researcher Dr. Geoffrey Pickering. He is investigating ways to slow the aging of blood vessels – and even generate new ones – to prevent heart disease and stroke. 

“We see in the lab what a difference this funding makes and the advancement in discoveries that wouldn’t otherwise be possible,” Caroline says. 

With an uncle who died at age 46 following a heart attack and a brother-in-law who had a heart attack, Caroline’s passion is more than just professional. “I’ve been personally affected, so I really like to encourage this support,” she says. “Hopefully we can help others.” 

As captain of the Robarts Big Bike team for the past five years, Caroline leads by example: she is the team’s top individual fundraiser, bringing in $540 for the 2018 ride.

And from recruiting team members to making sure everyone dresses up in themed costumes and has a great time, she says every part of her role in Big Bike is about feeling good. “There’s a lot of satisfaction knowing that the effort we put in contributes to research and helps to make advancements in the field.”