A young boy sits in the backseat of the family’s big blue minivan. A few feet ahead and a world away, his father’s CB radio crackles to life.
At home he’s dad. At work he’s one more government employee. But when that radio clicks on the man at the helm of the Dodge Caravan is someone else. He’s Flying Tiger.
The scenery beyond the road rushes by the car window but the boy listens – not a lot, maybe, but Derek Wong listens enough to remember the name his father used on that radio.
Local news that matters to you
No one covers the Tri-Cities like we do. But we need your help to keep our community journalism sustainable.
“That was his call sign,” he says, laughing at the long-ago memory.
It’s Tuesday afternoon and Wong is on his way to Calgary for a wedding when he talks about those family road trips and about his dad.
His dad was the kind of guy to find out the family lives and ambitions of anyone who ended up standing next to him in the grocery store check-out line. His father was never a trucker but he loved his CB, Wong says.
“He was a great guy,” Wong says, his voice thick with emotion.
His father died of lung cancer in 2021.
Since 2010, Wong has ridden in the Tour de Cure. On Aug. 27, he’ll be riding for his dad.
The first ride
Wong was working at CTV when he heard about the Tour de Cure.
“It seemed interesting but I really didn’t think too much about it,” he says.
Shortly afterward, his cousin, a mother in her early 30s, died of cancer. At the time, Wong hadn’t been on a bike since he’d been in school. Still, he felt moved to do something.
By riding in the Tour de Cure, Wong found he could do something in his cousin’s name while helping folks “who were going through the battle of cancer,” he explains.
There was also something cathartic about the event, about grieving and cycling both alone and together.
“it’s not a race,” Wong says. “It’s a ride.”
There are riders who come back every year and there are donors who come out to support those riders every year, he says.
Wong got donations from close friends and from people he hadn’t spoke to in years. Those donations usually came with a message about who they lost.
“Cancer affects, not everyone, but a lot more people than you think. And that’s the sad reality,” he says.
The Chilliwack event, which ranges from 50 to 160 kilometres, is peopled with bereaved riders and riders who have survived cancer. There are athletes who breeze through and workers who huff and puff to the finish line. But what unites just about everyone is a common mindset, Wong explains.
The physical toil of the ride is nothing compared to the ravages of cancer, Wong says.
Despite years away from the cycling lane, Wong says it was somewhat transformative to get back on a bike.
“It’s like riding a bike,” he says with a laugh. “That was the easy part. The hard part was getting the mindset of, ‘Oh, I’ve got to ride 250 kilometres over two days.”
This year’s ride
Wong is funny and gregarious in conversation but his voice slows when he talks about his father.
“He drove me to every ride, picked me up from every ride. And he loved being part of it himself,” he says.
Having parted ways with CTV, Wong opted to start a new team this year.
It wasn’t hard to come up with a name. This year, Wong will be riding with the Flying Tigers.