Army mechanic raising funds for Wounded Warriors PTSD program with 1,100-km cycling tour to Regina

Rob and Marina Nederlof’s Prairie Thousand fundraiser for Wounded Warriors is already approaching six figures as they prepare for the next cycling tour in August.

Rob Nederlof has always enjoyed cycling.

“I grew up in a big city,” said the 53-year-old Calgary native. “So I cycled around to get to my jobs and stuff like that.”

Nederlof and his wife, Marina, took up cycling as a couple during the COVID-19 pandemic. During a particularly long bike ride, they started chatting with a passerby who asked if the pair was cycling for any particular reason.

“Nope, just cycling,” Rob told him.

But the idea stuck in his head.

“While I was (cycling) to my destination, I was thinking, ‘I could do this for a reason,’” Nederlof recalled.

Later, he and his wife started brainstorming. They came up with the idea for the Prairie Thousand fundraiser in support of the Wounded Warriors Canadian PTSD service dog program, which assists veterans struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

The Nederlofs’ cycling fundraiser is now in its fourth year, with a goal to raise $8,756.58 this time around.

If successful, it would bring the total amount collected to an even $100,000. They have already raised $91,243.42, which is $69,000 more than the original goal of $22,000.

For this year’s tour, Nederlof plans to bicycle over 1,100 kilometres in Alberta and Saskatchewan, naming the ride ‘Wild Roses and Living Skies’ as a testament to the beauty of the two provinces. He’s scheduled to begin the tour in Edmonton on Aug. 11 and cycle eastwards, with the aim to complete his ride in Regina by Aug. 19.

Rob and Marina Nederlof share an on-the-road selfie during their third cycling tour for the Prairie Thousand in 2023.
Rob and Marina Nederlof share an on-the-road selfie during their third cycling tour for the Prairie Thousand in 2023. (Supplied photo)Supplied photo

Raising awareness for PTSD has long been a cause near and dear to the couple’s hearts. Rob, who currently serves as a mechanic with the Canadian Armed Forces, has been open about his own experience with the condition after being diagnosed three years ago.

“A good chunk of it (came from) the tours,” said Nederlof, who was sent once to Bosnia and twice to Afghanistan during his military career. “And also job stresses.”

His biggest challenge in managing PTSD is being able to recognize when it flares.

“You never know when it’s going to pop up,” he said, noting that what may seem like a normal reaction or behaviour to him might appear unusual to others.

“Getting angry easier than you should be … getting frustrated quicker than I normally would. And other people would be like, ‘Are you feeling okay? Because you don’t seem like yourself.’ And it’s like, ‘I feel fine,’ but you don’t realize that you don’t feel fine.”

Nederlof doesn’t use a service dog, citing a “really good support system” with his family and friends. He manages the condition with visits as needed to mental health resources on his army base in Shilo, MB — and with cycling.

The fundraising initiative has been a natural extension of his passion.

“It was actually really amazing,” Nederlof said of the reaction to his first tour in 2021. “It was more of a response than I imagined it would be.”

Nederlof’s first tour took him on a 1,000-km journey from Wawanesa, MB to Lethbridge.

“We got talked to by a bunch of media throughout the trip,” said Nederlof. He even received a police escort in cities like Medicine Hat and Lethbridge, where officers were notified of the tour by local citizens.

“It was totally unexpected,” said Nederlof, adding that he got to chat with many people, including first responders and those who’d worked with PTSD.

Some folks who are unfamiliar with the condition have asked him questions about what it’s like to have PTSD.

“A lot of the time it’s general questions like, ‘What is PTSD?’ or ‘How does it affect the person?’” said Nederlof, who’s open to sharing information, with the caveat that his experiences aren’t necessarily representative for all veterans with PTSD. “I could be totally different from other people who have gone through the same experiences I have. It all depends on how the person reacts to it.”

The people he meets along the way are generally curious about his reasons for cycling, “or (they) already know and want to touch base with us.”

Rob Nederlof stands with paramedics and local police in Winnipeg, during his cycling tour through Winnipeg in 2023. (Supplied photo)
Rob Nederlof stands with paramedics and local police in Winnipeg during his cycling tour in 2023. (Supplied photo)Photo by Rob and Marina Nederlof /reg

Looking back on his travels, one of Nederlof’s favourite memories was meeting a pair of German cyclists doing their own tour.

“They were just two dudes going across Canada and they didn’t realize how big Canada was,” Nederlof chuckled. “I was like, ‘it’s big, boys.’”

Nederlof began training for his own tour in April by cycling 52 kms daily from his family residence in Wawanesa to his army base in Shilo (near Brandon).

“This year has been a real challenge because of the weather we’ve had,” he said. “It’s been difficult to train as much as I’d want to.”

Figuring out logistics has been another challenge, such as choosing where to stay and allotting how far to cycle in a day.

“If there’s nothing from Point A to Point B, we’re going to have to go a bit farther that day,” Nederlof said, adding that the couple tries to plan routes and overnight stays to accommodate a balanced cycling routine.

Nederlof and his wife have posted prospective dates and locations for those interested in meeting them or joining them on tour.

“I’ve had a couple of people say they would love to join,” Nederlof said. “But due to whatever issues, they had to back out.”

As of July 8, this year’s tour has already raised $1,915.63 — more than 20-per-cent of the way to the finish line.

“We don’t go into this with any expectations, but I feel very confident that our goal this year is highly attainable,” Marina Nederlof said in a press release. “The people on the Prairies and across Canada are generous, and we know they believe in the work we are doing. And even if we don’t reach the goal, we are extremely grateful for any money we raise for the PTSD support dog program.”

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