Whitehorse Daily Star

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COURAGEOUS CREW – The members of Canada Cycles for Kids’ ‘Yukon or Bust 2022’ tour pose for a group photo during their big ride. The cyclists are going from Whitehorse through Skagway to Haines, Alaska, before heading back through Haines Junction to Whitehorse.

CCFK riding on their ‘Yukon or Bust 2022’ tour for charity

Canada Cycles for Kids (CCFK) is riding in the Yukon for charity on their “Yukon or Bust 2022” tour.

By Morris Prokop on July 29, 2022

Canada Cycles for Kids (CCFK) is riding in the Yukon for charity on their “Yukon or Bust 2022” tour.

The group began their journey July 24 and are traveling about 600 kilometres.

They are riding from Whitehorse to Skagway with a detour to Tagish along the way. From Skagway, they take a ferry to Haines, Alaska and then head to Haines Junction. From there, they take a detour to Silver City, before heading back to the Junction and then on to Whitehorse.

They are scheduled to roll back into Whitehorse Aug. 1.

There are 16 riders in the group and six support staff.

The bikers are coming in from a variety of places including Maastricht – just outside of Amsterdam in the Netherlands – San Francisco, Boston, Montreal, Toronto and Ottawa.

The riders are here to support the Yukon Hospital Foundation.

CCFK’s first trip was from Montreal to Vancouver 20 years ago. They have cycled over 19,000 kilometres and have raised over $1.8 million. This is their 21st tour.

The organization’s focus is on supplying dreams and fulfilling wishes.

They concentrate on local hospitals and organizations that focus on children and their families.

The Star caught up with CCFK’s co-founders Robert Fetherstonhaugh and Marc Balevi, who are from Montreal, on Saturday, before their big ride.

“This is the largest group we’ll have had, I think, for the whole distance.” said Balevi.

Fetherstonhaugh added “We have three different groups of skill levels ... the Roadrunners, because they’re obviously the fastest. And then we have the Eagles, kind of in the middle and then Marc and I are the Condors.”

“I like calling us the Turtles,” Balevi added.

“We’re a children’s cause ... that’s our focus ... we want to feel like we’re making a difference. We don’t turn around and just sprinkle amounts – we look for specific projects.”

“We’ve met some amazing, amazing children and they’re all not very pleasant circumstances, as you can imagine.

“In our Wish Dinner, there was some guest there that had a child that was granted a wish and the child had passed. I remember saying to them ‘That’s really sad for them’ and they said ‘Yeah, but you know, all I can remember now is the laughter from the wish’.

“It’s what kept us going the last 20 years.”

“We’re about helping – that’s really our goal. And we have a great team.”

Fetherstonhaugh and Balevi are old friends.

“We met in 1980 and worked at the same firm ... we each left the firm and it’s actually bicycling that kept Rob and I together, which basically gave birth to all of this,” recalled Balevi.

“We started to cycle on the weekend and Marc was after me for years to cycle across Canada,” related Fetherstonhaugh. “I said ‘Why?’ He convinced me that we would and then we agreed on the condition that we raise money for some sort of charity so we were looking for a national charity and at the time, national kids, which was pretty much the Make A Wish Foundation, so we started working with them.”

Fetherstonhaugh explained why they chose the Yukon for their journey this time around.

“I mentioned it to Marc and everyone seemed to like it right away.”

Balevi added “It’s been great marketing, I have to admit ... everyone wants to know about it and everybody’s interested – it drew a lot of attention.”

Fetherstonhaugh said “We have a group of cyclists. Some come in, some come out every year. This year, everyone wants to come.”

Fetherstonhaugh and Balevi explained why they picked this charity to support.

“This is helping something local,” said Balevi. “And it was a challenge where we’re trying to help a group that unfortunately are not fully organized that are helping diabetic children ... so we’re trying to help them.

“We were introduced to Karen and we want to help children in a local environment. We are also helping Make A Wish, as we do every year.

“We’ve had a very successful year so far.”

Fetherstonhaugh added “Dr. Katherine Smart from the Whitehorse General Hospital is head of the Canadian Medical Association and she’s also the driving force behind the initiative to create more of a ‘treat the children in territory’ program ... it’s the increased pediatric services there. And we really like that because we did the same thing in Newfoundland, which is to buy something so they don’t have to go elsewhere ... when you’re sick, you really don’t want to travel.”

“And you’re separating them from their family – it’s already a horrible situation and you’re just making it worse,” added Balevi.

Fetherstonhaugh said “Karen has been a huge support to us. Just fantastic in helping us get here and organize stuff for us and we have all sorts of other things coming up so it’s just been great. So we’re very happy to help.”

Balevi added “It’s a very easy story to understand to everyone, especially when you speak of sick children.”

Fetherstonhaugh recalled “On the original cycling trip across Canada, we only had one support van and we lost the support one day. And it was 95 degrees out in Northern Ontario and we’re out of water. We stopped at a little farmhouse and got some water and (she) said her daughter was a Wish kid.”

Karen Forward, the president of the Yukon Hospital Foundation, was also in attendance along with Balevi and Fetherstonhaugh.

“We are extremely grateful for this support from Canada Cycles for Kids,” said Forward. “Up until a few years ago, we didn’t have a pediatrician in the Yukon, and Dr. Smart and her husband, who’s a surgeon, relocated, so Dr. Smart was the first full-time pediatrician that we had in the Yukon and so she helped with redeveloping the pediatric area.

“Then we were fortunate last year to have another large donation from the Sandra Schmirler Foundation.

“So then you guys (CCFK) came along and it’s just like fate,” said Forward. “So we’re just putting the final touches on that pediatric space and then with Dr. Smart’s help, we were able to identify some areas in the hospital that still needed some renovation or updating. So it’s really been a team effort and we really are grateful with, obviously, the goal of keeping families in the territory when there’s critical cases with children.

“Having increased care in Whitehorse General Hospital really is going to make a huge difference,” she added.

“We’ll be presenting a cheque on the 31 of July,” said Balevi.

Fetherstonhaugh added “We’ve committed to raising $50,000 and we have another 10 days to go and we’ve already raised the $50,000.”

Balevi said that another $11,000 for the pediatric ward in Whitehorse has been raised through an online link to the Yukon Hospital Foundation, bringing the total to over $61,000 for the foundation.

Fetherstonhaugh said that 99 per cent of the donations have come from outside the Yukon.

“We tend to draw money that these organizations do not get,” related Balevi.

Fetherstonhaugh also pointed out that they pay for the cost of the cycling projects they come up with. “There’s not a penny that we raise that goes towards any of the expenses.”

“This comes out of our own pockets,” said Balevi. “It’s something we did from Day 1. We’re not here to raise money so someone can pay for us cycling. That’s not our purpose. Our expenses are virtually zero.”

According to Fetherstonhaugh and Balevi, the support staff are all volunteers, and each rider pays to come to the Yukon.

The Star asked them how they deal with the feeling of being overwhelmed by the magnitude of what sick children are facing, such as cancer.

“It’s heartbreaking ... it kind of makes you sad,” said Balevi.

Fetherstonhaugh added “It also makes it worthwhile.”

“If you can provide that little glimmer of positive, even though it’s a negative situation, that’s what it is,” said Balevi.

“One dying child said to me ‘I worry about my parents.’

“I’ve seen some of the bravest children.”

Fetherstonhaugh added “20 years ago, Make A Wish Foundation was for terminally ill children. It’s not just for terminally ill kids anymore, and the reason is a lot of them are surviving, which is great news.”

Fetherstonhaugh said everyone is feeling exceptionally upbeat.

“Everyone I’d say is very pumped up and positive and seeing the Yukon for the first time is just great.”

Balevi added that each ride the group does is like a family reunion.

“There’s a real bond. And every year, we tend to add somebody new.

“All we’re doing is trying to get things going and it creates this togetherness. That’s also quite fulfilling.”

CCFK is also hosting a Make a Wish dinner on Jul. 31 at the Sternwheeler hotel in Whitehorse. According to Fetherstonhaugh, it will feature a Zoom call with a “little guy from Saskatoon who wants to come here for a palaeontologist dig.”

The “little guy” will be in Whitehorse a week after CCFK does their ride.

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