Twenty-two riders pump their pedals almost in unison, straining as the incline increases.

There is a uniform look, which goes beyond the matching cycling jerseys.

This is a “Cops for Cancer Tour de Rock” training ride, and almost all of the cyclists are first responders—whether police, paramedics or fire fighters.

Then there are the others: a select few civilians who are nominated and then extended a rare invitation to join the famed ride.

Alli Roberts, who works for RLC Park Services, is one of them.

“I had never even contemplated that it would be a possibility because I am not a first responder. When the opportunity presented itself, there’s no possible way to say no, it’s like obviously I am going to say yes. This is amazing I can’t even believe this,” she said.

Roberts had helped with fundraising and awareness at previous rides through events at parks she works at, including Goldstream Nature House.

She also saw the impact the Tour de Rock had on a friend’s child who was battling cancer, and she was an instant believer

As for riding with all of those first responders, Roberts has never felt like an outsider, because they are a team.

“It’s just really dedicated individuals who really care about the cause,” she said.

Rob House has a similar take on his fellow riders.

“It’s a great honour to be training and riding with them. The cops, the paramedics and firefighters it’s wonderful,” he said.

The retired school principal had welcomed previous Tour de Rock teams to schools he ran. He said the events brought everyone together like nothing else he has ever been involved with.

House said the hours of training haven’t been easy.

At 58 years old, he is the oldest rider by far, but can hold his own during training rides.

“I can get up those hills, not the first necessarily,” he said.

When the going gets tough, he reminds himself he is grinding it out for the kids.

“It’s more than a bike ride, there’s a purpose here. It’s for helping kids and for helping solve the scourge of cancer for crying out loud,” said House.

The 1,000-kilometre ride starts in Port Alice on September 22nd and wraps up two weeks later in Victoria.

When the challenge of training, fundraising and working a full time job seem overwhelming to Roberts, she keeps the purpose and end date in mind.

“Any of the suffering or ‘this is hard to do,’ a) it’s by choice and b) there’s an end to it," she said. "Whereas some of those little warriors out there battling cancer and stuff, those families don’t even necessarily have an end in sight. So off we go.”