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Locals push cyclist back on track

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Anas Cheema stops in at Portage Place Shopping Centre Sun., July 14, after shopping for replacement camping gear, which was stolen along with his bike and other possessions at a Garden City McDonald’s on July 10.

MATT PREPROST / CANSTAR NEWS Enlarge Image

Anas Cheema stops in at Portage Place Shopping Centre Sun., July 14, after shopping for replacement camping gear, which was stolen along with his bike and other possessions at a Garden City McDonald’s on July 10. Photo Store

Anas Cheema was ready to stand with a jar on the side of road for weeks to raise money for the new bicycle and camping gear he needed to continue his fundraising trip across Canada.

Instead, a media crush and outpouring of support from Winnipeggers, along with a little bit of cashed-in karma, helped ensure Cheema’s stay in the city was far less short and much more comfortable.

Cheema was making plans to ride out of Winnipeg on Mon., July 15, after a thief snatched his bike from a Leila Avenue McDonald’s on July 10 when he decided to run in for a quick washroom break.

"Honestly, I didn’t know how the city was going to respond," said Cheema, 22, an international student studying economics at the University of Victoria.

"I didn’t expect the media attention . . . My original plan was to stand with a jar on the side of the road and ask for money. It might take me a week, two weeks, three weeks. I don’t care. If I had to build my own bike, I’d do it," Cheema said.

Cheema left Victoria June 14 on his cross-Canada bike ride, a fundraiser for SOS Children’s Villages, which works with some 85,000 orphaned children in 133 countries, including his native Pakistan, around the world.

He admits to having a bad day when he began his trek through Manitoba and into Winnipeg last Wednesday. First, he dropped his brand new cell phone in Portage la Prairie, shattering its screen. Shortly after, his bike pulled up lame with a flat tire.

Cheema was in the Garden City area after tracking down a cell phone repair shop on McPhillips Street. He stopped in at McDonalds that night for a bite to eat, and watched over his bike in the front foyer while he ate. He left his bike unattended just outside the front doors when he double backed inside to go to the bathroom before leaving.

The $800 bike, along with his camping gear, wallet, and video camera with first-person footage documenting his ride, was swiped in the two minutes he was inside.

"It might sound stupid, but I never gave it a second thought (to locking it up)," Cheema said, adding he’s learned his lesson, and that many Winnipeggers he met during his stay said bike theft was a common problem in the city.

What followed was a media blitz that sent Cheema’s story national, reaching officials from his school and even a fellow classmate in Edmonton who was travelling across Canada by train.

Since hearing the news, UVic officials have been in constant contact, Cheema says, even helping him replace his camping gear — he was found shopping downtown on July 14. Cannondale Bicycles outfitted him with new wheels.

Cheema stayed with a Wolseley resident he’d met previously on the side of the highway just out of Regina after stopping to see if she needed help. She didn’t, but offered him a place to crash when he passed through town.

Other Winnipeggers, in turn, donated $1,800 to his campaign over six days, doubling the $1,400 he had raised when he reached the city.

It’s pushed Cheema to double his fundraising goal to $10,000 by the time he reaches St. John’s, N.L., in six weeks before heading back to his studies. He’ll work toward that goal 200 kilometres at a time, cycling for 10 hours a day.

Cheema isn’t mad at the unknown thief, but he is interested in knowing what life circumstances forced the person to steal.

"That is what I believe in rather than punishing. It’s a debatable topic, but personally that’s what my approach is," he said, noting he wants to focus on his trip’s motto ‘No race, no religion, just humanity.’

"This trip is really important to me. We all live for ourselves, everything we do, there’s always some motive behind it," he added.

"This was the one thing I wanted to set aside in my life and when I look back 20 years from now, this is something I can say I did for society and for someone else."

For more, visit www.youcaring.com/other/take-me-home/65915.

matt.preprost@canstarnews.com

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