The Canadian Press
The Military Police National Motorcycle Relay (MPNMR) stopped in Jasper on July 31 as the Alberta chapter of their fundraising ride this year.
It is the 12th annual relay held to raise funds for visually-impaired young people. The funds are directed to the Military Police Fund for Blind Children, which helps visually impaired people up to the age of 21.
Nineteen riders and a support team of four pulled into a beach area along Pyramid Lake that morning, travelling from Valemount for the visit.
One of the riders, Ginger Gustafson, media operations, public affairs/public engagement, said the relay started in Victoria, B.C. on July 25. A recipient, Isaac Nice-Palmer and his mom, were part of the meet and greet that day. Gustafson’s husband, Gord, crafted a memories box for Isaac, complete with a MPNMR crest.
“When he got the box he was thrilled,” she said.
The riders have met recipients along the way in other years too.
“It’s about the children,” Gustafson said of the journey.
In a normal year, the relay is the world’s longest annual motorcycle relay – more than 10,000 kilometers from coast to coast. Riders are Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) members, veterans from the Military Police community and civilians.
“Usually the group leaves B.C. and goes across the country to collect funds,” Gustafson said. But the COVID-19 pandemic limited national travel.
And this year, along with the usual travelling gear, riders carried hand sanitizer and masks.
“We’re following provincial guidelines including social distancing,” Gustafson said.
The riders were welcomed by Keith Henderson, a service officer with the Jasper Legion, and the coordinator operator with Veterans Adventures.
“We’ve hosted them every year for about a decade,” he said. “The Jasper Legion tries to support veterans activities as much as they can. It’s part of our mission to support veterans, their families and our community.”
Canoes, kayaks and life jackets were provided to the group through the program, organized by the Jasper branch to encourage veterans, disabled veterans and their families to enjoy the outdoors here, with various discounts and free use of equipment.
After paddling around Pyramid Lake in the sunshine, the riders and support team headed to the hall for a luncheon provided by the Legion.
Following lunch, the riders got back on the road to return to B.C., where they continued collecting funds.
“It’s been an awesome experience,” Gustafson said on Aug. 3 from Grand Forks. “We’ve had no problems with people concerned about COVID. Our total, to date, is larger than in previous years. The generosity of people is amazing.
“We’ve had quite a few people come up and give us cheques, including seniors, who received bonuses from their old age pensions, said they didn’t need the money and wanted to give it to a worthy cause.”
It was the first time on the ride for Joel Armstrong, who travelled with his goggle-wearing dog, Miso, tucked in a pack behind him on the bike. Two months ago, he hadn’t heard about it.
Via an email, Armstrong, a technical director at Trinity Church Kelowna, said he became connected with the MPNMR through an advanced motorcycle skills course they offered when they requested to use his workplace’s parking lot for their drills and offered a complimentary registration in return.
“I realized the value of the skills I gained through that course and wanted to give back to the charity in return,” he said.
Armstrong said it is important that those who have resources of various kinds “help those who have legitimate needs”. The MPNMR, he continued, “gave me a new set of skills and then also an opportunity to immediately put those skills to work for the good of others”.
Armstrong said he had the opportunity to meet one of the children helped by the Military Police Fund for Blind Children. To hear his story, he said, “was a particularly touching moment, and to know that the charity is wholly volunteer-run with no administrative overhead is motivating as well. 100 per cent of the funds raised goes to the children, which very few charities can accomplish”.
COVID-19, Armstrong said, has radically changed the nature of the ride. “Instead, this year each region has organized an internal loop, respecting provincial borders to minimize the risk of transmitting,” he said. “Of course we have to be careful at all our stops to respect all appropriate COVID guidelines as we travel as our own mobile bubble.”
Armstrong said the ride has been going very well, successful at raising money and awareness for the charity and keeping everyone involved healthy and safe.
He said: “I personally have been to new places, made new friends and learned a lot about military service, culture and veterans care in the process. In a season of social distancing, I have found a close connection and unity of purpose with a group of people wanting to use their love of motorcycles to do some good.”
Alex Millham, Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) National Co-Chair, said more than $600,000 has been raised since the relay started.
Last year, he noted, a little over $50,000 was raised nationally.
The B.C. group will finish their ride on August 7 in Victoria. About the riders’ ‘touch and go’ visit in Jasper, Gustafson said, “It was great. The hospitality was amazing, couldn’t have been better.”
By Joanne McQuarrie, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter/Jasper Fitzhugh