From the get-go, we loved this story about how Kelly Shires, her friend Suzy Cayley and a bunch of gung-ho gals were having a blast and helping women with breast cancer. This year's Kelly Shires Breast Cancer Snow Run will go on without Kelly: her breast cancer returned and Kelly died Oct. 31, 2004. But, as Suzy says, Kelly's "dream and spirit" will always be the heart and soul of the event.
"The complete silence and crystal cold is really touching," says Kelly Shires. It's a winter morning in Muskoka, Ont., and more than 100 women on snowmobiles are lined up and raring to start the Kelly Shires Breast Cancer Snow Run. Before they do, they stop for a moment to honour those who have died from this disease. This quiet pause, Kelly says, is her favourite part of the fund-raiser.
Kelly was just 34 in 1997, the year she was diagnosed with breast cancer. As she worked her way through several surgeries, the end of a pregnancy, chemotherapy and the loss of her business, Kelly faced the enormous price -- physical, emotional and financial -- that breast cancer exacts. She decided she wanted to do something to help other women on the same path, women who need such things as wigs, special bras, transportation to treatments and even some medications not covered by public or private health insurance. Of course she told her good friend Suzy Cayley about her dream.
Women helping women
One afternoon the two were relaxing on Kelly's deck, overlooking a couple of snowmobiles parked beside Georgian Bay, when the idea for their fund-raiser took shape. The cofounders wanted it to be women helping women, and they wanted it to be fun.
The women who start their engines and enjoy the thrill of speeding over more than 100 kilometres of snowy trails, across frozen lakes and through frosty woods certainly do have fun. "There's nothing else like it," says Kelly. "It's true camaraderie; you get out there and you form instant friendships. You can go as fast as you want, and you have women totally with you and behind you. It's funny a Ski-Doo can do such a thing, but it does, and we let loose and are out there for a common goal."
Women from across Ontario (and a few from the United States) show up for the ride. Some are breast cancer survivors themselves, and all sign up for one of four teams, from Team Turtle (for beginners) to Hooter Haul (for the daring). Kelly and Suzy each lead one team and, helped by a small crew of dedicated volunteers, work to provide a warm and welcoming atmosphere and make the event a success. At the end of the day, everyone enjoys an evening of food, entertainment and prizes.
The success of Snow Run
Last year's fifth annual Snow Run raised $141,000 in pledges and corporate sponsorships. Jane Cozens of Midland, Ont., is one of the women it helped. Partway through her chemotherapy, Jane's employment insurance ran out, but she wasn't eligible for welfare and had a month to go before the benefits from her workplace kicked in. "Kelly's fund took a lot off my shoulders," says Jane. "It helped me pay my rent and buy food. I'm grateful. It felt good to know she was there and is there for others."
Suzy, 31, says that's what Kelly is all about. "She is a determined woman who focuses her energy on how she can help others," she says. "When I think I'm having a bad day, I look at Kelly and think, If she can get up every day and smile, what do I have to complain about?"
The organizers plan to keep growing the event each year and want to expand it across Canada. One of their biggest challenges right now is letting women in need know the fund is there for them.
As the event's media relations director, that's something Suzy is working on. "Kelly is a huge inspiration for me," she says. And so are all the women who travel together that day. "When I see the number of people and number of snowmobiles there in the silence," Suzy says of the race start, "I want to cry."
To find out how to access funds, make a donation or participate in the Kelly Shires Breast Cancer Snow Run, visit www.breastcancersnowrun.org or call 1-877-436-6467.