Who says the fun of riding a bike can’t also be an opportunity to raise money for an important cause? Certainly not the thousands of cyclists who have been a part of Canada’s Friends for Life rally at various points since it began in 1999.
The rally serves as the pivotal fundraising event for The Toronto People With AIDS Foundation (PWA). Over the years, it has helped raise more than $12 million. Its coffers supply the lifeblood for a host of services for people living with HIV and AIDS. In 2014, the group was able to provide upwards of 63,000 individual services to those affected by HIV and AIDS.
This summer’s race—with its 400 riders covering 600 kilometres in six days—was scheduled to have run from Toronto to Montreal. Over its storied history, the rally has attracted numerous repeat cyclists, including its 2015 chair, Allan Hooey, now in his ninth year with the event. “As the years passed, I quickly learned how important PWA is to the community at large,” Hooey says. “Understanding what a difference PWA makes in the lives of PHA’s and their friends and families is why year after year my involvement grows.”
He’s not alone. Some have participated for as many as 15 years, including Darrel Zehr. They have observed changes in the fundraiser first-hand. “It was very leisurely in the early years,” contends Zehr. “We stopped for every Popsicle stand. A lot of guys rode with their shirts off. But people got more into cycling, having the right bike and wearing the right jerseys. You’d never see anyone now with his or her shirt off!”
What you would see—among both the cyclists and those who cheer them on along the route—is the sort of enthusiasm that attends any unifying cause. Put more poetically, the rally’s co-lead, Billy Axelrod, calls it “the magic of the event.”
Indeed, magic might be what it would take for even a hardy cyclist to get into shape for the demanding, multi-day rally. But its rewards aren’t limited only to those who have superior physical prowess.
Just ask veterans of the race. “From the training rides, to fundraising, to the conversations with dedicated riders, crew, family and friends, every interaction makes me proud to be involved in such an incredible journey,” says Hooey.
“Over the years, I have had the opportunity to volunteer, work and ride with some of the most devoted people I have ever met, and I look forward to an amazing year ahead. Together we can make dreams come true—one kilometre at a time!”
(For more information, visit www.bikerally.org or www.pwatoronto.org.)