On Feb. 25, Edwin Smit hopes that hundreds of people will hop on bikes and ride to the top of the Poás Volcano eight times.
He understands that the goal is lofty, and that enticing people to bike up and down the 2,708-meter volcano, which towers over the Central Valley, eight times on a Saturday morning might be a difficult sell.
But Smit has seen thousands of riders – from novices to professionals – scale the 1,950-meter L’Alpe d’Huez, a famed French mountain in the central Alps, six times in a single day.
According to Smit, the motivation for the riders to brave the grueling trek up the L’Alpe d’Huez, which is often featured in the Tour de France, is the fight against cancer. For six years, thousands of Dutch and French riders have ascended the mountain to raise money and awareness.
“Cancer is a disease that affects all of us. Almost everyone has someone in their family or among their friends that has had cancer or is currently fighting it. The more money that can be raised for research and treatment, the larger the number of lives that will be saved,” Smit said.
The idea of biking up mountains to raise cancer awareness was born in 2005, when Peter Kapitein, a Dutch man who’d competed in more than 200 triathlons, was diagnosed with lymph node cancer. Doctors told Kapitein, who was 44 when he was diagnosed, that his cancer would never be completely cured.
After undergoing treatments that nearly killed him, Kapitein decided that his will to live would be fueled by his children.
“I was diagnosed in 2005 and had my first round of treatments. In 2006, the cancer returned,” Kapitein said at a presentation at the Costa Rican Embassy in The Netherlands last month. “I realized the cancer would never go away, but decided that I could never, ever quit. I have two children, and I’m determined to see them grow up.”
In 2006, Kapitein and 66 riders decided to ride L’Alpe d’Huez six times in a single day, an act of grueling defiance that he said is symbolic of the fight against cancer.
“His doctors told him that his fight against cancer could not be won, so he set out to do something that seemingly could not be done,” Smit said. “He picked one of the most difficult mountains in the Tour de France and said ‘the professionals climb it once, so we should climb it six times in one day.’ He did so to show people what it was like to suffer with cancer every day. People that bike the mountain suffer that day so that they can empathize with cancer patients.”
After the 2006 ride in France, in which 64 of the 66 riders completed the six trips up the mountain, Kapitein launched Inspire2Live, a charity organization aimed at raising funds for the cancer fight. The ride up L’Alpe d’Huez, known as L’Alpe d’HuZes, a Dutch play on words with the number six (“zes”), has become The Netherlands’ biggest charity foundation. In 2011, Inspire2Live’s L’Alpe d’HuZes event earned more than $26 million and had 4,300 participants. In six years, L’Alpe d’HuZes has generated more than $80 million, mostly used to fund cancer research.
The Birth of ‘Pocho’
As Inspire2Live has grown, so too have its events across the world. Eight international events are planned for 2012.
The first Inspire2Live event outside of Europe will be in Costa Rica. The ascent up the Poás Volcano eight times has been dubbed “Pocho” or Po-8, a fusion of the words “Poás” and “eight” in Spanish.
Smit and his girlfriend, Renée Snijders, are organizing Pocho in Costa Rica. Smit, a Dutch citizen who has lived in Costa Rica nine years and works as an agronomist, is an active supporter of Inspire2Live. He and Snijders are organizing the Costa Rican event.
“The event is spreading very fast in The Netherlands and has evolved from just a bike competition to become a movement,” Snijders said. “It has grown a lot within Europe, and we want to start shifting the movement outside of Europe. We intend to start small here, but hope that the movement will catch on as it has elsewhere.”
To drum up support for Pocho, the Smits have actively promoted the event at the Costa Rican Embassy in The Netherlands, the Dutch Embassy in Costa Rica, the Costa Rican Sports and Recreation Institute, Fundecancer (a national cancer foundation), and several other government agencies. In November, the Costa Rican Embassy in The Hague, hosted an event to announce the official Pocho kick-off.
“This initiative will bring together people living and working in The Netherlands and Costa Rica for a cause that is dear to all of us,” said Jorge Urdina, Costa Rican ambassador to The Netherlands. “A cause like Pocho engages people in a common endeavor to put an end to suffering and improve quality of life for those that suffer from cancer.”
The fee for riders and walkers in Pocho is $100. Riders can bike individually or participate in teams or groups. Sponsors can also provide funds for riders or teams.
According to Smit, Pocho is a nationally registered business under the name Asociación Deportiva PO-OCHO. Pocho’s long-term goal of Pocho is to generate enough funds to construct a shelter or residence for cancer patients in San José. The shelter, which will be volunteer-run, will provide a free stay for out-of-town patients who come to San José for treatment.
“The dream is to start our own building that will give people a place to come and sleep, eat and stay throughout their treatments,” Snijders said. “Planning is for about 20 rooms, but raising that much money is still a very long-term goal that we hope can be accomplished within five years.”
At the inaugural Pocho ride, Kapitein will visit Costa Rica for the first time to scale Poás eight times. A team from Calderón Guardia Hospital will participate, as well as a team of Miss Costa Rica pageant winners, headed by Miss Costa Rica 2001, Piarella Peralta, who lives in The Netherlands and is an event organizer.
On Feb. 26, a post-Pocho celebration will be held at the Jazz Café in San Pedro, east of San José. Costa Rican band Son de Tiquicia will play the event.
To participate in Pocho, visit www.po-8.org or call 2273-0981 or 8841-8125.