Frosty ride across Manitoba raises money for a special cause

by Karen Kornelsen

Fueling up at a local Co-op that donates fuel for the Journey for Sight riders.
Fuelling up at a local gas station that donates fuel to the Journey for Sight riders. photo courtesy of Corey Hurren, Bowsman Lions Club

This January, sledders from across the province will once again join together to battle the cold and raise money for an incredible cause in Manitoba.

Journey for Sight 2013 has taken place the third week in January for the past 30 years and raises money for the Lions Eye Bank in Winnipeg. Ian Mullin, chairman of the committee for Journey for Sight, has participated himself for over 20 years.

The snowmobile fundraising event originated in Birtle, Manitoba, in 1983. Initially it consisted of one rider collecting pledges for worthwhile causes. Today, snowmobile riders from northern, central and southern Manitoba, and most recently from northwest Ontario, will typically ride a minimum of 200 kilometres, visiting various communities before a rendezvous in Brandon for the presentation of funds and guest speakers. To date more than $1,000,000 has been raised.

Covering the province

Some sledders go as far as 700 kilometres, starting out in Thompson, Manitoba.

"There are several legs in Manitoba that all end up in Brandon on the Saturday of that week," said Mullin. "We send a few guys up to Thompson on the Monday of that week and then they start riding on the Tuesday. Then a group from Flin Flon will start their ride Wednesday morning and meet up with them and make our way south through different avenues. We split up a few times to cover more ground."

Some riders are sent up to Thompson so they cover the majority of the province and to ensure safety by riding as a group. There are about 25 sledders who come out of the north and the ride is a frosty 700 to 800 kilometres. In total, about 50 machines will unite in Brandon. Last year, they raised $113,000 for the Lions Eye Bank in Winnipeg, Manitoba.

"The Lions Eye Bank does a lot of amazing things," said Mullin. "They do a lot of research, public awareness and conduct transplants. They also help those who are less fortunate with their transplants. In the Swan Valley area, where I live, the Lions Club rallied together to get special cataracts equipment in our hospital."

Manitoba weather

Raising money for this great cause does come at a cost. Every year, no matter what, the temperature always hits minus 35 to minus 40 Celcius.

"Everybody on the ride jokes about the weather," said Mullin. "It's just one of those things. We've had years where the week before the ride is a balmy minus 5, then the week of the ride is minus 40 C and the week after the ride is nice again. If you want to bet money with someone, bet it's going to be minus 35 Celcius and you'll make your money."

The key is good clothing, according to Mullin, as well as looking out for each other.

"Everyone has really good clothing," he said. "It's key. Also everybody watches out for each other when it gets that cold. You will see 25 grown men checking each other's clothing to make sure there is no exposed skin. It sounds funny, but it's very serious. When we go from the north, we are travelling across many lakes at 70 miles per hour. Skin can freeze in under two minutes. We are very diligent in making sure everyone has their balaclavas tucked in before heading out."

Journey for Sight also acts as a reunion for the sledders.

"A lot of us have ridden for 15-plus years," said Mullin. "It's like a big family. People are busy during the year, but we always make sure we get together at this time and do what we can to help out the Lions Eye Bank. We usually get a few new guys every year, which is great as well. Everybody really enjoys it, no matter the cold."

If you wish to participate or would like more information on Journey for Sight, contact Ian Mullin at [email protected].

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