Dubai: Meet the cancer survivor who helped raise millions using his love of cycling

Expat also raised $100,000 for UAE's Al Jalila Foundation with his week-long biking challenge



by

Anjana Sankar

Published: Fri 19 Aug 2022, 2:28 PM

Last updated: Fri 19 Aug 2022, 10:38 PM

A Belgian expat in Dubai who beat cancer at the age of 63 is turning his passion for endurance biking to fund patients in the UAE.

Guido De Wilde was at the height of his 40-year long career in hospitality when he was diagnosed with stage four colon cancer in January 2020.

"It is a diagnosis I never wanted to hear. I was always afraid of getting cancer," said Wilde, now 64, and who was the former chief operating officer at Marriott International, told Khaleej Times.

But when he came face to face with his fear, Wilde says he chose not to run away. Instead, he took it as an endurance challenge.

"No matter how strong you are, it is a huge shock. When I walked out of the hospital, that fear was not there anymore. I thought, now that I have it, I better fight it," said Wilde.

An endurance cyclist, he says he immediately switched to his 'cycling mode.'

"When doctors said my cancer was curable, I know it was not just one mountain that I had to climb. When you are cycling, as soon as you reach atop a mountain, there is another."

Wilde underwent two surgeries as the cancer spread to his liver. He started his chemotherapy in March 2020. Through his year-long journey of tests, treatment and surgery, he said he had ultimate faith in his doctors at Mediclinic and the treatment they prescribed.

"From day one, I had complete trust in the medical team and the world-class facilities here in the UAE. Though it was during the height of the pandemic, it did not affect my treatment at all. I am forever grateful to the medical team that took care of me," he said.

He said he also had the privilege of a supportive partner. "You cannot fight it alone, no matter how strong you are. She was my rock and she told me that we will get through it together," he said.

Quitting a successful career

Wilde, who moved to Dubai in 2006 with his wife Johanna, had a rewarding career in the hospitality business. In 2011, he became the Senior Vice President for the Starwood Hotel and Resorts, Middle East before he was appointed the COO of Marriott International.

"Dubai was expanding and so was the hospitality industry."

But with the diagnosis, Wilde said he had to reassess his life goals and prioritise his health.

"Hospitality industry is a 24-hour job. Hotel business never sleeps. Though I loved my job and always stayed fit and took care of myself, my health became my top priority."

At the height of Covid, Wilde says though he could work from home and his company supported him wholeheartedly, he decided to call it quits.

"But retirement does not mean doing nothing. I only retired from my corporate role. It gave me a new purpose – to give back to the community and help other cancer patients," said Wilde.

Cycling for a cause

Even before he was diagnosed with cancer, Wilde was a passionate cyclist.

"I cycled everywhere as a kid and followed the professional races such as the Tour De France and Giro d'Italia, when the Belgian rider Eddy Merckx dominated the cycling world. Cycling brings people together, it helps me to stay healthy and is a great way to relieve stress at the same time," he said.

He had co-founded the 'Road to Awareness' charity campaign in 2008 while he was working with Starwood Hotels & Resorts, which he had then continued during his tenure with Marriott International. Through the initiative, De Wilde and his colleagues cycled more than 6,000 kilometres over 13 editions and raised over $10 million (around Dh36.7 million) for UNICEF and various charities in the region.

After beating cancer in May 2022, Wilde, driven by the same passion and drive, embarked on a week-long 'Cycle Against Cancer' challenge to raise funds for cancer treatment and research in the UAE.

He, along with a group of friends, biked 1,200km across Belgium, France, Switzerland and Italy from May 2 to 8 and raised $100,000 for the UAE-based Al Jalila Foundation.

"As well as raising money for a worthy cause, I wanted to send a message of hope to other cancer patients and survivors that there is a healthy life after cancer," said Wilde.

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Drawing from his success, Wilde says he is planning to continue the cycling challenge as an annual event.

"I am working on a project that will bring cyclists and cancer patients together in the UAE and use biking as a way to help people stay fit and also support cancer research and treatment. Cancer affects everyone and we have to fight it collectively," says Wilde.


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