Riding with Purpose – A Lake2Lake Interview with John Harsevoort

Welcome, John!
Can you start by telling us a little bit about yourself? Anything you’d like to share?

My name is John, and I’m a 48-year-old from Hamilton, Ontario. I’m married with three adult kids. My wife is an educator who teaches Grade 7 at a Christian school here in Hamilton, where my kids have all gone as well. I’m a landscape designer by trade, and my family and I just love being outdoors as much as we can: cycling, hiking, traveling, all those sorts of fun things.

And how did you get looped in with Lake2Lake and with Wellspring?

It was a bit of a roundabout way. I had been connected through a cousin out in BC who was on the Board of Wellspring. I knew that he had done the BC Lake2Lake ride for quite a number of years, and I was always talking to him about possibly flying out and riding Lake2Lake with him. That never really panned out, but then he let me know that there’s a local ride. I checked it out and that was perfect. I’d still love to come out and join Jake and the Kenorah crew because the 2-day ride is really attractive to me. As beautiful as it is in Ontario, I’m sure the scenery along the Vernon ride is pretty stunning!

I get the sense that you’re a rather dedicated cyclist. The ride offered 45km and 92km options, but you added a little extra and rode a full 100km. What made you decide to go that distance?

Well, two reasons. One was for my supporters. For the people I was asking to donate, the 92km felt a little odd. Why not go the full hundred? That definitely influenced the choice. But also, if you’re a cyclist, that 100km ride is the grail. I think it ended up being just over 93km when we finished in Port Dover, but I realized, “I can’t finish here.” I did an extra little loop outside of town and back, which was really awful because the gradient coming from the harbour in Port Dover was all uphill! But if you’ve already done the 92, you might as well finish.

Having undertaken several century rides in the past, how much training did you do in advance of the Port Dover Lake2Lake? And thinking back to your first 100km ride, how different was the preparation for Lake2Lake compared to that first attempt?

For my first 100km, which happened a few years ago, I trained a lot! When you have a career and a family, you can’t just take a whole day off whenever you want. So usually, training rides are in the 30-60km range. 100km is a bit more of a commitment, and the first rides were a lot. You get sore legs, and any part that’s on the seat for a long time gets pretty sore! But when looking at the route for the Wellspring ride, I was more intimidated by the hill at the beginning than by the length of the ride.The 92 kilometres were fine, but I’m glad we started off with that hill, as ending with it would have been a whole other ballgame.

Riding with a group always helps too, as 100km by yourself is very different from 100km with a group of people who are pulling you along and taking turns drafting. Chatting along the way is great because kilometres go by really quickly when you’re distracted. It’s really lonely and you’re in your head if you’re by yourself. It’s a challenge to say, “I can push through the pain and I can keep going.”

So you found that on this ride everyone was really supportive?

Yeah, it was great. I showed up and drove to the start down by the lake. When I got there, I found out there was a group of guys who were biking in from Oakville. Right away I thought, “Oh, no, what have I gotten myself into? Here’s a bunch of elite riders coming from Oakville, and I’m going to be struggling to keep up!” They were strong riders, but they were super gracious. I had never met any of them before, and they were great. I met some good friends that I’ll probably ride with again, which was a bonus.

After a ride like this, are you in a lot of pain?

This one in particular? No. Having that hill at the beginning was good because we got it out of the way and weren’t grinding our way up on exhausted legs. Cycling isn’t necessarily about how strong or how fit you are. It’s really just about endurance and pushing past some discomfort. Knowing that once that hill is done, there’s going to be a flat part. Understanding you have a headwind right now and it’s really hard, but you’re eventually going to turn and that wind will be gone or it could even be behind you. There are little things you hold on to that keep you going. And with a group, if you get tired you can always draft behind somebody for a while. For this ride, it also wasn’t a race. There was plenty of time to finish, and there was lots of support along the way.

This year you were our “king of the mountains” for the number of people who gave to your campaign. How did you fundraise? And do you have any tips for people who might be intimidated by the idea of fundraising?

Part of it is that long before the event, you need to make a commitment to be part of the equation. When other people are asking you for money, give it to them, even if it’s just a small amount. And then, two months or six years later, if you’re asking, guess what? There’s a better chance that they’re going to give to you. I always support people from my church, my work community, or guys that I ride with. If they’re fundraising and getting involved in a cause, I know they’re doing it for a reason and because they’re actually passionate about it. So always be willing to give to other people’s campaigns.

And then, as far as the practical part, I keep it simple. I just share on Instagram, and I focus on making it easy. With Instagram, do it often and make sure that you embed links to keep it user friendly. I know for myself, if I’m scrolling and can’t find the link on someone’s profile, forget it, the moment’s gone. Emails I don’t find are very effective because you can scroll past an email and it’s gone. So I use social media, making sure people can click the link right then when they’re in the moment.

How often were you posting on Instagram?

As soon as I knew that I was going to be doing the ride, I posted a teaser letting people know I was planning to do this, and letting my connections know to keep an eye out for updates on my training. I also offered the link right away. In that post, I shared what Wellspring is and what the organization does. Then as we got closer, every couple of weeks I threw a post up about my training and even posting my efforts on Strava.

Within the last month, I was posting something once or twice a week. I’d share my fundraising goal of $1,000, and let people know how much had been raised so far. I’d invite them to give even small amounts, because every little bit counts. And then the day before, I posted to remind people of what I was doing, saying “I’m going to ride 100km. All you need to do is click this button!” And then Wellspring gets to benefit. I also mention that it doesn’t have to be a big gift – even just $20.

What makes you care about children in Rwanda and Uganda and the education that they receive?

As I mentioned, my wife is an educator, and a couple of years ago she spent some time in Africa with a different organization, doing just exactly what Wellspring is doing. She travelled to villages and witnessed and learned a lot. There were principals of little village schools who were literally on their own for fundraising, curriculum development, making sure that kids can get there and have uniforms and food. That was very eye opening for her, and she of course came home with a lot of energy and stories to share. Children in Rwanda and Uganda, which is more Wellspring’s focus, but kids everywhere no matter where they are deserve education. It’s not just a classroom and pencils and pens, but it’s about dedicated, intentional people in their lives mentoring them and leading them and caring for them, which makes a huge impact no matter where you are.

If you were to give a little “elevator pitch,” why do you think somebody should participate in Lake2Lake?

Every cyclist who loves cycling is always looking for another ride. So instead of just going out for fun, why not come out for a ride on a Saturday where you can meet some fellow cyclists and actually help a little with a bit of a purpose? I guess what I really loved about the Lake2Lake ride was actually the end when we had lunch together. One of Wellspring’s staff members, Louise, gave a bit of a talk about her purpose and Wellspring’s purpose, and some of the good that comes from the fundraising and the support that they get. And that was really impactful for me. So instead of just going on a bike ride, why not join together with another group? It takes very little effort to raise a decent amount of money for a great organization. You’re going to ride anyway. Why not meet some people, get some free snacks and a good lunch? And more importantly than that, you’re riding for a cause instead of just a hobby.

That’s a great elevator pitch! Let’s wrap it up with a couple of fun questions:
1. If you could choose a superpower, what would your superpower be and why?
2. What’s an item from your bucket list and why is it an item on your bucket list?

So, superpower, I was thinking about this and I think it would be kind of fun for a 48-year-old guy to just randomly show up at the Olympics and be the fastest person there and break all the records.

In terms of bucket list, as a cyclist – and my wife and I have actually been talking about this recently because I’m turning 50 in a couple of years – we’d love to travel through France, and start during the Tour de France. We would see some of the stages while also enjoying the cuisine and the sites.

Is there anything else that you would like to share with our readers?

I had not known too much about Wellspring before, besides my cousin’s involvement. But the people that I have spoken to, including yourself, Louise, and others, are very passionate, very involved, very caring about this organization. And then talking to Jake about his involvement, he’s been boots on the ground in Rwanda and has seen the work that’s happening there as well. This is a fantastic, well-organized successful organization doing really, really, really amazing work for the future. I mean for the future of this world, for generations, for God’s work and his creation, and just for education in general. So I fully commend supporting them by riding your bike, but also support in any other way that you possibly can, whether it’s through finance, prayer, spreading the word, whatever you can do.