A sea of cyclists rode through Bloomingdale on October 4 through the rain and cold to raise much needed funds for local charities and experience a taste of what it might be like to be a refugee.More than 1,200 Waterloo Region riders came out for the 11th annual Ride for Refuge, a charity bike ride held in 30 locations across Canada. The local ride raised more money than any other location, eclipsing places like Vancouver and Calgary.
Waterloo Region riders raised more than $326,000 for 53 different charities.
Kyla Arsenault, Waterloo Region event director, said it’s by far the most they’ve ever raised. The event originated locally with Brian Carney, the CEO of Blue Sea Philanthropy in Kitchener.
“He had a passion to help charities thrive financially,” Arsenault said. “He’s a fundraising guy and he kept hearing people say how much of a struggle and how much of a discouragement fundraising was. He had this idea to start up a non-profit whose sole goal was to help other charities thrive financially.”
An extra special addition to this year’s ride was Olympic champion Cindy Klassen’s presence. The Mennonite Central Committee brought in the six-time Olympic medalist to ride with MCC and meet local members. She took the stage at the opening ceremony to thunderous applause.
“You could kind of see the realization dawning on people who she was,” Arsenault said. “It felt like this beautiful Canadian moment, they started to cheer and increased and increased. She received the loudest applause we had ever heard in an opening ceremony event.”
MCC members came early to take pictures and get autographs and then Klassen stayed after the ride to meet other people.
“I think for the MCC people it was a really special time at the beginning when they were able to come early and get some signing and get to meet her,” Arsenault said. “I think they felt really valued that they were partnering with them. For many of them it’s the first time they’ve met somebody who’s won medals at all, let alone so many.
Arsenault first got involved through Creekside Church. A friend challenged her to ride her bike the 25 km distance, which was challenging for someone who hadn’t rode a bike in 10 years. A few months later her friend upped it to the 50 km, and she obliged.
“I thought, ‘I want to do this and I want to do something that’s hard because I really understood the idea that riding a bike and doing something hard, especially when it’s cold and rainy.’ The idea of it is to experience a little bit of what it might be like for a refugee or someone who’s been exploited,” Arsenault said. “It should be uncomfortable.”
Of the 1,200 riders, 398 did the 10 km, 403 did the 25 km, 206 did the 50 km, and 45 did the 75 km. These numbers don’t include the 100 riders who signed up the day of the event. There were also 110 volunteers.
Arsenault says they’re not completely sure why the Waterloo location is so successful, compared to others. It could be partially because this is where it started, but she says it has a lot to do with the community spirit.
“There’s just something in our community that is really about that collaborative approach to supporting different charities and it’s not a competition,” Arsenault said. “There’s not a competitive feeling. We’re all in this together riding for each of those different things – there’s a very community feel to it.”
She said the community was also very open to them. They opened up all their parking spaces in town. Arsenault adds that the ride is so crucial because fundraising can be a time-consuming process for many charities.
“It’s a huge combination of things, like the collaborative feeling of the community coming together and raising lots of funds for different charities who frankly need money, who need money like it’s fuel in order to do what they need to do.”
The event has raised more than $5 million across Canada since its inception in 2004.
“We have people who are riding bikes and advocating for them and doing something difficult to really push themselves, it’s just this great way of bringing really needed funds to these organizations that help them to continue on for that year and put a really good dent in their budget.”