Some ride for speed, some ride for air or for endurance, some even ride on water. Others ride a snowmobile with a pink bra on its hood to raise money for breast cancer research.
That’s the first thing Jody McKay attaches to the hood of her machine when she sets up a Pink Ribbon Riders event at one of several locations across the Snowbelt.
“The pink bra started as [friend] Alia [Brown] and I trail rode over the years to show our awareness and support for breast cancer,” McKay said.
McKay and Brown are a co-founders of the Pink Ribbon Riders, an organization that combines the sport of snowmobiling and charity to raise money for men and women diagnosed with breast cancer.
At the root of this organization is Kelly Shires, a friend of the women.
Shires was an avid snowmobiler who was diagnosed with breast cancer. She began what she called Snow Run for Fun in Canada, with all proceeds of the rides going to help individuals living with breast cancer.
From then on, Shires’ Snow Run for Fun has only grown — 2008 will mark its ninth season.
McKay and Brown were inspired by Shires and her efforts. In 2004 the two began their own Snow Run, which kept the rides and cause alive after Shires died that same year.
The first U.S. ride took place at Tug Hill in New York and was appropriately named the Tug Hill Snow Run in the U.S. It roused up 32 riders and $2,500, and every penny donated went toward expenses not covered by insurance.
Since those noble beginnings, McKay and Brown founded Pink Ribbon Riders and have had more than 400 participants. In 2007, the group raised $40,000 after adding several rides to its schedule.
Pink Ribbon Riders strives to directly help individuals through financial assistance but has also worked with both local and regional breast cancer treatment centers. It is a non-profit organization and all donations go to the cause. Events are made possible with the help of volunteers. “We are very excited that we are a volunteer based organization and continue to look for more volunteers,” McKay said.
For 2008 Pink Ribbon Riders will add Wisconsin and Wyoming to its rides in addition to Minnesota, Michigan and New York.
There is no need to worry about Mother Nature tampering with an event, either. “We are so proud to say that the event goes on no matter what. We will not cancel an event even if we have to go canoeing,” McKay said. “It’s all about the cause, not just snowmobiling.”
That was especially true for the 2007 Minnesota ride last February in Garrison, Minnesota. Low snow meant marginal trail conditions and a bitter cold snap put the ride’s high temperature at minus 15 degrees F. The ride was shortened to 65 miles, some participants just came for the indoor events and one sled refused to start after the rest stop. However, there were few complaints among the participants — just camaraderie.
The rides are open to men and women. The Minnesota event included the son of a breast cancer survivor, a woman getting back into snowmobiling and snowmobile oval racers.
The Minnesota event was run in conjunction with an Xtreme Ice oval racing event. The Xtreme Ice circuit promoted the event, and its racers made donations to the cause — in part because oval racers Heather and Katie Olson signed up for the ride and then went knocking on trailer doors. Heather Olson was the top fund raiser at the Minnesota event, pulling in more than $500. The 13 riders in Minnesota raised almost $3,000.
McKay and Brown have really put on the hustle in developing the Pink Ribbon Riders, as evidenced by an extensive sponsor list and the ability to get companies to make special products just for their cause. Both have full-time jobs, even though this cause could easily be one. McKay’s background in marketing has served Pink Ribbon especially well, as the group has attracted some major sponsorships.
Last year Arctic Cat designed and donated the ride’s first official pink snowmobile. Raffle tickets were sold at each event and at the last ride of the year Linda Scott, of Pennsylvania, rode home on her new Limited Edition pink F5 LXR sled, autographed by snocross racer Tucker Hibbert. Arctic Cat has promised another limited edition “Pink Sled for a Pink Cause,” which can be seen at snowmobile shows and Pink Ribbon Rider Events.
Snowmobile outerwear maker HMK is another prominent sponsor. Last year HMK made pink boots and will continue to market them along with a new line of pink clothing, with a portion of all proceeds donated to Pink Ribbon Riders. New for this season, outerwear company FXR has pledged to donate a portion of profits from its pink jackets.
A long list of other sponsors donate raffle prizes and fundraising premiums to each event ranging from gift certificates to performance products to helmets.
“Our sponsors have all been great as we are not exclusive with one sponsor or brand,” McKay said.
She has only positive feelings toward the future of Pink Ribbon Riders. She said she’s exited about the expansion of the events and
“the impact we will be able to make on people’s lives going into ’08.”