Riding to remember

by Willy Williamson . May 20 2016
JASON HALSTEAD / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILESMotorcyclists leave Polo Park to take part in the annual Ride for Dad in 2014.

JASON HALSTEAD / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES

Motorcyclists leave Polo Park to take part in the annual Ride for Dad in 2014.

Unless you’ve been hiding in the garage for the better part of the past decade, you’ve surely heard of the Ride for Dad — an annual fundraiser in which motorcyclists raise money through pledges for prostate cancer research and education.

For the past few months, local folks from all walks of life have been gathering pledges for the cause. Next Saturday, more than 1,000 participants riding every make and model of motorcycle imaginable will join a police-escorted parade down Portage Avenue and then enjoy a scenic poker run to Gimli before making the return trip to Winnipeg.

The local leg of the ride has been more popular than anyone could have imagined, and much of that success is because of Winnipeg Police Association president Moe Sabourin and his longtime friend and Winnipeg Police Service veteran Kirk Van Alstyne.

While it takes a small army of volunteers to organize an event of this magnitude, anyone close to the Manitoba Ride for Dad is acutely aware of how much time, effort and love both Sabourin and Van Alstyne have dedicated to it. Throughout the year, this dynamic duo can be spotted at local motorcycle-related events promoting the Ride for Dad, selling raffle tickets, and just generally being standup guys in the local motorcycle community. We should also collectively tip our helmets to local public relations guru and CFL and Winnipeg Blue Bombers Hall of Fame member Trevor Kennerd, who has also done a terrific job promoting the Ride for Dad.

Above all else, the reason for Ride for Dad is to raise awareness and money for prostate cancer research. All funds raised locally stay in Manitoba for research and education.

Ed Johner, a spokesperson for the Manitoba Motorcycle Ride for Dad and a cancer survivor, says a simple three-minute test can save your life. “I wouldn’t be here today if I had avoided being tested,” Johner said. “That’s our message to men and their families. The best way to fight prostate cancer is with early diagnosis.”

For me, Ride for Dad not only delivers a terrific day of riding for a great cause, but it’s also the perfect time to reflect on my own father, Dave. We lost him to cancer nearly 11 years ago.

Time has helped heal the wounds, and nowadays I find myself smiling at the memories. In addition to being a car guy, my dad also had an appreciation for motorcycles, and infected me with the bug at an early age. The day that happened was life-changing, and although it’s a story I’ve told many times, it remains one of my favourite childhood memories.

Even though I’d buzzed around on a battered Honda Z50 mini bike, my motorcycle life officially began in the fall of 1979. I was 12 years old and lived with my mother, Isabelle, and my older brother, Allen, in a townhouse in St. Norbert. My parents had divorced when I was about five, and my brother and I lived with mom during the week and spent most weekends with our dad.

Mom and her new boyfriend, Jim (who later became my stepfather and best bud), were going to Hawaii so he could play rugby with his beloved Winnipeg Wasps. Because the kids had school, our dad was spending the week at our house. (Pizza for a week!)

On the day my mom and Jim left for Hawaii, our dad pulled up in front of our house with a trailer in tow behind his Oldsmobile Vista Cruiser station wagon. Without having the slightest notion of the joy to come, we hopped in the car and drove to Winnipeg.

When dad wheeled into Richmond Yamaha on Pembina Highway, we still didn’t know what was to come. But, as we entered the showroom and were ushered over to a pair of shiny new Yamaha dirt bikes with sold tags on them, my life instantly changed.

Thanks to that little Yamaha GT80, I was cool for the first time in my life. I was no longer a chubby kid from a broken home who stuttered a bit when he got excited. It didn’t matter that I wasn’t the best skater or the fastest runner. I was the cool kid on the motorcycle.

Riding a motorcycle has opened the door for me to countless adventures, lifelong friendships and a mind overflowing with memories. I owe it all to my dad, and next Saturday I’ll be riding for HIM!

willy@freepress.mb.ca

JASON HALSTEAD / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILESMotorcyclists leave Polo Park to take part in the annual Ride For Dad in 2014.

JASON HALSTEAD / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES

Motorcyclists leave Polo Park to take part in the annual Ride For Dad in 2014.