Devoted to helping others throughout his life, J.P. Petit’s legacy will live on after his tragic death during a charity bike ride from Winnipeg to South Dakota.
Three of the Winnipegger’s organs were donated to people in need of transplants, with hospital staff lining up to salute him as family members took him on a "last lap" before a final goodbye.
Petit’s loved ones are planning to set up a foundation in his memory to continue the work he started.
"He was probably the most selfless person I know. He was always willing to help out wherever he could," Petit’s son, Marquis, told the Free Press Monday. "He was someone full of life who enjoyed every opportunity he had.
"Dad had a passion for helping others. We don’t want his legacy to end at this time and now."
Petit was hit by a cube van, or straight truck, as he attempted to cycle about 1,350 kilometres in 13 days to Hot Springs, S.D.
He was raising money for his three-year-old granddaughter Eveline’s medical expenses and the Children’s Hospital of Winnipeg’s nephrology department. More than $34,000 has been donated as of Monday.
Winnipeg cyclist fundraising for granddaughter dies in U.S. collision
Posted: 7:00 PM Jun. 13, 2022
J.P. Petit was attempting to cycle about 1,350 kilometres to Hot Springs, S.D., raising money for his granddaughter, who was born with kidney disease.
The Winnipegger was about halfway into his journey, and nearing his $20,000 fundraising goal, when tragedy struck last week.
Eveline required a transplant after being born with end-stage kidney disease. Her father, Marquis, 34, donated one of his kidneys to her in March.
"My dad wanted to push himself harder than he’s ever had to to honour Eveline and the rough go she’s had," said Marquis.
Eveline was admitted to hospital with an infection about two days after her grandfather died.
"She’s asking where he is. We just said, ‘He’s gone away,’" said Marquis. "She doesn’t have a full grasp on it, of course. She’ll know one day.
"She’s going to know she was his inspiration for this. He did this (ride) for her."
The collision occurred shortly before 12 p.m. on June 9, the sixth day of the journey.
Petit, who was wearing a helmet, was cycling along the right shoulder of southbound Interstate 29, about 27 km north of Brookings, S.D., according to the state’s Department of Public Safety.
The vehicle, heading the same direction, was in the right lane.
Charges are pending against the cube van’s driver, 65-year-old Mark Akkerman of Brandon, S.D., said the Department of Public Safety, which has not revealed which charges are being considered.
The state’s Highway Patrol continues to investigate, said spokesman Tony Mangan.
Witnesses or passersby pulled over and performed CPR on Petit, an act his family will be forever grateful for.
"They gave us the opportunity to have our goodbye. They gave some closure to the family who were able to come down," said Marquis.
He was among the family members who travelled about 750 km to Sioux Falls, S.D., to be with Petit for his final moments.
"It was fairly quickly (hospital staff) told us dad wasn’t going to make it through his injuries," he said. "We were able to be at his bedside and have some grieving time instead of a sudden goodbye."
Petit’s wife, Carmelle, was driving a support vehicle during the charity ride. They would meet while he took a break around the halfway mark of each leg, their son said.
“It was fairly quickly (hospital staff) told us dad wasn’t going to make it through his injuries. We were able to be at his bedside and have some grieving time instead of a sudden goodbye.” – Son Marquis Petit
She didn’t witness the collision, but she began calling her husband’s cellphone after the incident.
"She saw that there was an accident (scene) and she started calling dad to see where he was," said Marquis. "When someone finally answered, he was already in surgery in the hospital. They told her to get to the hospital right away."
Petit, a union representative with the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 832, was first taken to a hospital in Brookings. He was then airlifted to Sioux Falls, where he was on life-support.
As they prepared to say a final goodbye, family members took him on a "legacy ride," as his hospital bed was wheeled through corridors, said Marquis.
"Hospital staff gave him a hero’s salute and lined the halls. Doctors, nurses, helicopter pilots and other staff were all present for his final deed and gift of organ donation," he said.
“Hospital staff gave him a hero’s salute and lined the halls. Doctors, nurses, helicopter pilots and other staff were all present for his final deed and gift of organ donation.” – Marquis Petit
Petit donated both of his kidneys and his liver. One of his kidneys went to a patient in California, while his liver and other kidney were given to people in the Midwest.
He died June 13, nine days after his family held a joyous send-off in Winnipeg.
Before leaving the city, Petit stopped at the Children’s Hospital to pose for photos with Eveline and others.
"He was excited. He was energized to do this and he was feeling good," said Marquis, noting their last conversation in person was the "usual stuff" such as "be careful, good luck and I love you."
He talked to his parents every night as his father, who cycled about 100 km per day, rested in a hotel room.
Petit is also survived by his children, Janique and Julien, their spouses and additional grandchildren.
He loved to spend time with family, travel with his wife and get outdoors as much as possible. Camping, canoeing and riding his motorcycle were among his favourite pastimes, said Marquis.
Petit was an avid runner, competing in marathons and ultra-marathons, including one in Hot Springs years ago.
He chose the city as the bike ride’s destination because it is home to Kidney Springs Park. The park has a fountain of natural spring water, which contains minerals which purportedly promote kidney health.
People who would like to donate to Petit’s campaign are asked to visit Cycle4Eveline.ca or leave a tribute gift in Petit’s memory at Goodbear.ca.
As a general assignment reporter, Chris covers a little bit of everything for the Free Press.