Kitchener-Waterloo

After being attacked by hornets, cyclist returns to finish 760 KM bike tour

A cycling trip in southwestern Ontario turned into a life-or-death situation for one Toronto cyclist this month ‒ before ending in triumph.

Mo Alhaj says bike tour was a memorable one

Mo Alhaj was riding a 760 km bike loop when he was attacked by hornets. (Thomas Willington/Supplied)

A cycling trip in southwestern Ontario turned into a life-or-death situation for one Toronto man this month after he was attacked by hornets mid-ride, but still managed to complete the trek. 

Mo Alhaj was riding a 760 km bike loop that travels from St. Jacobs to Port Elgin, around Georgian Bay and back through the Collingwood and Mono areas.

Alhaj and his friend, Thomas Willington, left St. Jacobs on July 11 as part of an annual group ride called the Grand Depart. They were raising money for the Princess Margaret Cancer Centre. 

"The fifth day… we decided to stop in Fergus for the night and finish the last 50 K the next day because it was my friend's 30th birthday," he said. "We were feeling really elated."

Swarm of hornets

The following day, the two friends were around 15 kilometres from the finish line when they encountered a slippery wooden bridge, Alhaj said.

Alhaj got off his bike to walk it across the bridge. The moment his feet hit the ground, a swarm of hornets began stinging him all over his body, he said.

"The biting was so painful," he said. 

Alhaj got back on his bike and tried to continue on. Soon he felt his body go numb and began struggling to breathe. 

"I was kind of riding ahead," Willington recalled. "I kind of just looked back over my shoulder, and Mo just fell off the bike… By the time I got back to him he was almost unresponsive."

Alhaj was unresponsive when paramedics arrived, Willington said. (Thomas Willington/supplied)

'Dying in front of me'

Willington called 911 and explained to the operator how to find the pair.

"The long moment was really waiting for the ambulance, he said.

"In that moment, I felt really helpless because he was just basically dying right in front of me."

Paramedics arrived 15 or 20 minutes later and started administering epinephrine.

Alhaj was taken to hospital, and Willington, unable to visit due to COVID-19 restrictions, waited at the home of friends for news. About three hours later, Alhaj called his friend from the hospital.

"He sounded really out of it," Willington said. 

"He was like, 'I want to get out of here. I want to finish the race.' And we were just laughing like, 'Obviously we're not going to finish the race. What are you talking about?' … We were joking because like doctors make the worst patients."

Finishing the race

The two friends spoke a couple more times before Alhaj was finally discharged around 6 p.m. and Willington picked him up.

"I told him we're going to finish the race," Alhaj said. "He said, 'Are you crazy? What's wrong with you?' Like, I still had the ECG leads on my chest and on my ankles and all of that."

But Willington was soon convinced. The two men returned to an area slightly beyond where the emergency happened and biked the last 15 kilometres to the finish line.

"I had tears in my eyes. It was emotional," Willington said.

"It wasn't so much about finishing or not finishing the race. It was less about that and more about just being with my buddy, Mo, and that he was alive."

Alhaj said the incident has given him a change of perspective. 

"You know, every day is a gift, and like, we should be doing what we love and be surrounded by the people that we love and enjoy friends and enjoy life because you never know when it's going to be over."

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