Let me introduce you to Robert O’Donnell and his son, Justin.
Robert dresses up as the Yeti and snowmobiles in the Tug Hill and Old Forge areas of New York. He’s a can’t-miss when you see him – an imposing, whooly figure standing astride his Ski-Doo MXZ, heartily waving at passersby. When he finally brings the machine to a halt, folks flock to him – curious about the character and desirous of having their photo taken with an elusive creature.
Riding behind him for about 60 miles on one recent Saturday, it was fun, silly and a little bit zany.
The cause of all of that frivolity is very serious and personal, however.
Robert portrays the snowmobiling Yeti to raise money to help fight children’s cancer. The money he raises is donated to the Bernard & Millie Duker Children’s Hospital at Albany Medical Center in Albany, New York. The hospital then reaches out to corporate sponsors to see if they will match, double or triple the amount raised. Robert in the past couple of years has also been reaching out to corporations for support for his cause.
The money has been adding up and is now approaching six figures. It was all created by a very personal situation.
A Cause & An Idea
At age 5, Robert’s son Justin was diagnosed with Langerhans Cell Histiocytosis, which is a type of bone cancer. At that young age, Justin went thru several chemotherapy procedures and surgeries for the next couple of years.
At age 7, Justin had his chemotherapy port removed and the family did a huge fundraiser. Most of the money they raised was paid forward and given back to the Make-A-Wish Foundation, an organization that Justin was involved with. The remaining money was donated to the hospital where he received his treatment.
When Justin was 9, the family was discussing doing another fundraiser to benefit the hospital again. They were sitting around the living room when Justin suggested to Robert he should dress up like a Yeti and ride around on his snowmobile and scare people. Justin said people would then want to have their picture taken with him, and would likely be willing to donate a dollar for that picture. Everyone has a dollar, he reasoned.
The first year they tried this, they raised $300 and donated it to the hospital. The hospital then reached out to some corporations and found one that matched what had been raised. Encouraged, the following year Robert decided to purchase a vendor spot at Snodeo in Old Forge to sell Expedition Yeti T-shirts and sweatshirts. From there it has gotten bigger.
Year three brought about the Yeti support team, called Team Sherpa, with the term Sherpa coming from the people who help carry things up Mount Everest. It also made a way for local businesses to start to support the cause.
One of the first businesses to jump onboard was the Highmarket Inn and its owner, Mike Hulsizer. Others soon followed, like the Stillwater Hotel, Clark’s Beach Motel and the Old Forge Camping Resort. These companies donate things like two-night stays for two people. Other businesses like the Adirondack Dog House and Daiker’s On The Lake have donated establishment prizes.
It’s become a win-win. Not only does the Yeti raise money for children’s cancer by riding around Old Forge, he also supports the business that support him. Every weekend he is out promoting one or two of the businesses. He does this by being out on a ride as the Yeti and when someone makes a larger-than-normal donation, he gives one of the prizes from that weekend’s featured business to that person.
Labor Of Love
I had the chance to go out on a ride with the Yeti in late January as a part of a group of 15 riders. What an inspiration and opportunity to see how people respond to him! He’s very active on the trails, waving to people as we go past them. When we get to one of our destinations, the people rush to see him and get a picture of him. He then tells them the reason he is doing this and encourages the dollar donations to have a picture taken with him.
Most times, the newfound fans donate more than a dollar. The weekend I rode with them they raised more than $600. It adds up. For the past six years, with the help of corporate sponsors, Expedition Yeti has raised over $85,000 for the cause.
This year the Yeti team is hoping to break the $100,000 mark. If you are out riding in the Old Forge and Tug Hill areas and see the Yeti, make sure to donate and get a picture with him. Let us help the care, research and treatment needed to kick cancers butt! For more information, visit Expedition Yeti on Facebook.
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