Wednesday, 27 November 2013

Rob Dyer; Enjoying the Ride

     I think my photographer Victoria asked me to consider interviewing Rob Dyer about five times over the span of a few months. But, when I say she asked me five times, I want you to know that's a couple times a day. “Seriously though, look into it.” or “If you're going to consider Rob you should do it before this date, he's busy over the next while.” or “Have you emailed Rob Dyer for an interview yet.” After a while, Victoria did something she has never done, and I found it absolutely hilarious. When she learned I still hadn't messaged Rob, she took asking him upon herself. I was getting to it... I swear. She attended a music festival in Toronto called “Riot Fest”, where her idol Rob Dyer, founder of the charity “Dream Love Cure” and the “Skate4Cancer” movement had a booth set up to sell some of his` merchandise. She asked if she could talk to him for a second, and explained the Canadian Stories work, asking if he would ever do an interview. With a grin, he said he would love to and gave Victoria the contact information. People ask me how I get in touch with people, all I can say is sometimes it's as easy as asking.
     Needless to say, Victoria didn't stop there. “Have you emailed Rob yet?”, “Have you emailed Rob yet?”, “Have you emailed Rob yet?”... on and on until finally, I sent an email to Rob Dyer. Again, didn't end there. “Have you arranged a time yet?”, “When are we going to interview Rob?”, “You should mention this in your Rob interview”, I think I'm getting my point across, I know for sure that Victoria was. Finally, with much excitement when I told Victoria, I had an interview time arranged. November 16th, at 4:00pm. Two hours after the time I had arranged to meet with Holocaust Survivor Judy Cohen, my interview posted last week. I mean, it was two hours after first arriving at Judy's house. More than enough time, right? Apparently not...

Victoria and Rob at Riot Fest
Photo provided by Mariah Etten

     We hustled out of Judy's condo and into my car, time was not on our favour, as my maps told me. After checking our estimated time of arrival, I was shocked to see 4:01pm. No way was I being late, it was maybe time to go a little on the other side of recommended speeds. Until we were detoured for a closed road. And another. And another. I'm not making this stuff up, and you can imagine how mad I was getting. Upon finally getting to the Skate4Cancer shop on Queen Street, and finding a parking spot, Vic and I took some deep breaths. We were stressed, anxious, excited, and well, felt extremely bad for making Rob wait.
     Running around the corner to his shop and opening the door as fast as possible, I first laid my eyes on Rob (hmmm, that sounds a little romantic, don't mean it that way). Covered in really cool tattoos, and a weak attempt at a Movember moustache (sorry man, cold hard truth), he had a massive grin while listening to a customer. Like, actually caring about what they said. Made me realize just the type of person he was. He hugged them on their way out, and thank them for stopping in, then turned to Victoria and I. When I introduced myself, I was also granted with a massive hug and a big “thank you so much for coming”! We sat down on his store windowsill, and I was finally ready to ask some questions, which is why I was shocked when he had a fair bit of his own, first.
     He asked me if we had spoken to anyone else today, and I told him the story of Judy Cohen. Amazed, he told me how beautiful of a story her's was, and was glad I could share it. Then we came to the topic of hometowns, and after I was surprised he knew Ingersoll, he was surprised I had interviewed someone from his hometown of Newmarket. We touched on the story of Cliff Thorburn, and Rob was amazed at the story of a man who followed his passion so far. Now that I think about it, Cliff may not have been from Newmarket, but still, I loved how amazed Rob was by stories. Just like I was, that's why, with excitement from Victoria and I, we started talking about Rob's.

Rob laughs at my stories!
Photo by Victoria Alexander

     If you ever meet Rob (I highly suggest it), you'll see he's one of the most outgoing people out there. But that's not really how it was in high school, he told me he was sort of an introvert. During breaks, he would go outside and see kids skateboarding. A thing he would come to fall in love with. They were all there, having a blast in their group, but at the same time doing there own thing. It was something that immediately appealed to him, so right away he went and rented all the skate videos he could find (you know you're getting old when...)
     He never really stopped after first learning in grade nine. For as long as Rob could remember, his mom had been suffering from skin cancer. With this, and the struggles of high school, skateboarding became a way to get through the harsh times and the best times of life. It was like his punching bag. About a year before Skate4Cancer started, another challenge would arise. His mother was diagnosed with brain cancer. Rob was only 18, and of course, things became really hard for him. Skating is what he turned to. Together with his mother and some friends, they worked on one final idea. With his inspiration Terry Fox in mind, he played with the idea of taking his skateboard and riding straight across America. From California, through the southern states, and up the east coast, ending back home in Newmarket. About six months into his planning, his mother passed away. As I've read online, Rob also lost his grandmothers on both sides, and a friend, to cancer. Five months after his mother passed away, he started his skate. Those months and that journey became a way to keep his love for her alive, and for him to keep her memory alive as well. Their last project. He was only 19 when he started the journey of a lifetime, the same age I am now. Skating across 19 may have been a crazy idea, but he was glad it started then. Back when anything could be possible, and as Rob showed many, it was.
     His journey wasn't over. From America, Rob skated across Canada. Through New Zealand. Through France, and coming up, Australia round two. The dedication in that alone is phenomenal. Round one through Australia had to come to an abrupt stop part way through the journey, when one day Rob was struck by a car to finish. The job isn't over I was told, he needs to go back. The awesomeness of this guy is crazy, allow me to put it into perspective. Rob has skated 25438 kilometres this past decade. That's more than skating from Toronto, Ontario to London, England, and back, twice, plus some. Crazy. All for cancer research.
     It took a while for the Skate4Cancer name to get around, about five years according to his memory. Rob hosted events such as music tours in which he would sell his merchandise, with all the money going as a donation to Wellspring for cancer research. This year, about four months ago, he opened his shop in downtown Toronto. It's crazy to think that all the money from the store as well is going to charity, it really shows just how awesome some people are. What makes it better though, is that Rob is learning from his experiences. Back when he was going through his losses from cancer, he just wished there were more people there outside of his family group that he could speak to, he's decided to now be one of those people. If you're ever having a bad day and just need someone, they're always around at the shop to chat. He told me this is a massive journey, a massive battle we're all on, and he understands how just being there as a set of ears is one of the best things he could ever do.

Rob and I think about the future of Skate4Cancer.
Photo by Victoria Alexander

     I looked around the shop and just had to ask, where do you think all of this is going? With a laugh he told me he has no idea, and looked around at the shop too. He's young, he told me, he really lives day to day. Rob got up, shook my hand and gave me a hug. I gave it right back with a smile, glad I met him, and listened as he turned around and added;

     “In skateboard jargon, I'm really just enjoying the ride.”  

"I'm no therapist, but I promise you this:
I will listen, I will care."
Photo of Rob and I by Victoria Alexander!

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