Van Tighem amongst supporters during his 2013 2,700km traverse of Hwy 93 // Bob Covey
GVT just before he cruised into Jasper on his Hwy 16 adventure, 2014. // Bob Covey
On the Dempster Highway in 2015. // thedutchcyclist.com
Being honoured by the Governor General of Canada in December.
GVT AWARDED SERVICE MEDAL BY GG
When Greg Van Tighem was 19, before he left his parent’s home in Calgary, and before he boarded a bus to Jasper to live with his older brother Kevin, his mom told him something he’d never forget.
“She said ‘I don’t care what you do, as long as you do the best job possible and you do good,’” he recalled.
Apparently Van Tighem took those instructions to heart. Thirty-seven years later, on December 8, Jasper’s fire chief was awarded the Meritorious Service Medal from Canada’s Governor General, David Johnston.
The award was given to Van Tighem for his tireless efforts to raise money for the Multiple Sclerosis Society of Canada. By now, Jasper knows well of GVT’s End-to-End-to-End-MS cycling campaigns: His first mission, in 2013, saw him battling truckers for shoulder space while traversing nearly 2,800 kms of narrow Highway 93 from Wickenburg, Arizona to Jasper. His next journey, in the winter of 2014, took him more than 3,000 kms along snow and ice-caked Highway 16, on a fat bike, no less, from the Queen Charolette Islands to Winnipeg. And finally, because once he started rolling fatties he couldn’t stop, he pedalled the most extreme ice-road in the world, the Dempster Highway, at the top of the Canadian arctic. The extreme elements conspired against him, giving him a couple close encounters with hypothermia.
Since 10 years ago, when he first entered the Hinton MS Bike Tour and was inspired to raise money for the debilitating disease, GVT has raised more than $378,000 for the MS Society of Canada.
Van Tighem’s long-distance cycling didn’t start with Highway 93, however. It didn’t even start in 1982, when he bought his first mountain bike in Jasper (a BRC High Sierra, for those interested). GVT’s cycling career began much earlier, in Calgary, at St. Mary’s High School. There, the future top MS fundraiser in Alberta, Canada and North America would ride his 10-speed, along with about 14 other students, around Calgary’s Bow River Valley. On weekends they’d ride up to 180 km in a day.
Then he took a sabbatical. Not long after landing in Jasper, he started a family. Van Tighem didn’t really get back on a bike until after his kids, now in their early 20s, left home.
“The bike stayed in the garage,” he said.
He was also spending his days in a garage; after Van Tighem did a stint at the Athabasca Hotel (“I worked as a bouncer, bartender, waiter and DJ,” he said) he settled into a career as a mechanic.
A decade later, at age 30, he put an application into the Jasper volunteer fire brigade. That decision would change his life. Not only was he accepted, he jumped in with both feet. Shortly after joining, GVT was taking all the training he could through the Vermillion (Lakeland) Fire College.
“That’s the way I am,” he said. “If I find something I’m really passionate about or interested in I’m going to give it 100 per cent.”
Indeed, the pattern shows up in other aspects of his life. Soon after he joined the rugby club he was the club’s president and coach, and even coached the high school team. Similarly, once he joined the fire brigade, he quickly moved up the ladder, eventually becoming chief. He also started the Jasper Park Lodge fire brigade with fellow firefighter Henri Gender.
“That’s my problem, when I do get involved I end up getting up to my waist,” Van Tighem said.
Luckily for The Right Honourable David Johnston, Van Tighem had some room above his waist—on his lapel, in fact—so the Governor General could award him his medal.
“GVT and GG are like best buds now,” he laughed.