The concept is simple. Women riding snowmobiles for charity.
The Kelly Shires Breast Cancer Foundation stumbled on the idea when the two creators were on the deck of a cottage trying to figure out what kind of a fundraising event they could come up with that would benefit people trying to beat cancer.
It was 1997 and the charity’s namesake, Kelly Shires, had been diagnosed with breast cancer, and with her friend Suzy Stenoff they were looking for something that would be a bit different and raise much-needed funds to cover costs of cancer not provided through insurance or OHIP.
The first concept was a golf tournament.
“I looked at her and said, ‘I don’t really golf but I will certainly help you with that’,” Stenoff recalls. “I asked her, ‘do you know how to golf or know anything about it?’ And she said no and we just looked at each other and started laughing.”
They were staring into the yard of the cottage and Stenoff spotted a pair of snowmobiles under a tarp.
“What about a snowmobile event?,” Stenoff offered.
And she looked at me and said, “What about an all women’s snowmobile event?”
Shires passed away in 2004, but Stenoff, who is the director of the charity, keeps her memory alive with each event.
Since then 20 rides have been held with hundreds of women over the years doing an annual tour on snowmobile, raising $6.2 million in the process.
There are various levels of trips, but a typical route covers 150 kilometres of trail throughout the day, with all teams meeting for lunch. They then complete the day with a trip back to Hidden Valley Resort, the event start point.
The first year Stenoff and Shires raised $10,000 despite rain ruining the event and forcing the snowmobilers onto a motor coach for a bus tour instead.
“The first year that we did it we weren’t necessarily trying to run our own charity, we wanted to fundraise and we wanted the money to financially assist cancer patients,” she explains.
When they went to turn the money over to the local hospital foundation it was explained that they would gladly take the donation but it would not be directed to help cancer patients.
“We said, no that’s not what we are all about. That’s not what we want to do,” Stenoff says of how they decided to start their own charity. “Then we applied for our own charity license and it just grew from there.”
The 2019 run was held in February, raising over $600,000. And then the Foundation was the recent benefactor of a world record snowmobile distance attempt, garnering $19,000 and possibly a spot in the Guinness Book for the four riders who made the 3,335-kilometre ride around Lake Muskoka last week.
Stenoff jokes they are a big small charity. She says this after revealing that in 2018 the Foundation helped 526 applicants with $1,000 grants each. $526,000 in one year.
And this is one charity that does not rest on its laurels. In going to the charity website to look up some facts, it is revealed the date for the 2020 event is already in place. January 31st to February 2nd at Hidden Valley Resort in Huntsville – and registration begins in the spring.
To visit the Kelly Shires Breast Cancer Foundation – click here.