The Bellerose Bikeathon is back, despite the pandemic, and ready to ride on to its goal of $3 million raised for cancer research over its lifetime.
The 19th consecutive Bellerose Bikeathon is this June 17. The annual event sees hundreds of Bellerose students ride stationary bikes for up to 48 hours to raise money for the Alberta Cancer Foundation, Kids with Cancer Society, and (in a related head-shave event) the Stollery Children’s Hospital.
While Bellerose squeezed in the 2020 Bikeathon just before the COVID-19 pandemic reached Alberta, this year’s edition seemed all-but doomed given public health restrictions.
School staff had been debating how to do the Bikeathon during a pandemic for the past year, said event co-founder Sue Leighton. When the province announced its reopening plans in late May, she and acting principal Dawn Rothwell approached St. Albert Public with a plan.
“It’s been a long year, and our kids need something to be hopeful about,” said Leighton, one of the co-founders of the Bikeathon.
“We’ve had tragedy, we’ve had triumph, and this is going to be a great way to cap off the year.”
Leighton said school authorities gave the Bikeathon the go-ahead May 25, with the event’s official launch happening May 28. Organizers had just three weeks to plan an event that normally took a full year to create.
This year’s Bikeathon has been heavily modified to meet provincial health restrictions during the pandemic, Leighton explained.
The event is set to take place outdoors instead of in the school’s atrium, and will involve about 45 teams of five to eight students, or roughly half of the usual 800-some participants. Riders will pedal for 12 hours (9 a.m. to 9 p.m.) instead of 48, with each spaced several metres apart and sheltered under individual awnings. Riders will not congregate around bikes, will sanitize bikes before switching riders, and will wear customized Bikeathon face masks at all times – the latter of which is not actually required under provincial COVID health guidelines for sports.
“We want to be as safe and responsible and (as) respectful of everyone during COVID as we can be,” Leighton said.
Leighton said organizers will provide food, speeches, and entertainment to rally the riders. She also put out a call to school alumni to come back and serve as celebrity riders. This year’s head shave is set to take place at 11 a.m. — rumour has it teacher Clayton Wowk will shed his luxurious locks if the school can raise $10,000.
Leighton said students have been asked to raise at least $50 to participate in the Bikeathon, down from the usual $150, in recognition of the state of the economy. The school hopes to raise about $78,000 this year to bring the Bikeathon’s grand total to $3 million over its 19-year history.
Grade 12 student Declan Fawcett said he plans to be back in the saddle June 17 for his third Bikeathon, decked out in Canadian flags as a member of Team Canadians for a Cure. He said he was excited to hear the Bikeathon was back on, and hopes to raise $2,000 for it.
“It’s something we look forward to every year, and I’m glad we can do it,” he said.
Fawcett said this year’s Bikeathon will be a lot quieter than past ones, as he won’t have his teammates around when he’s on the bike. He plans to keep his mind busy with music and videos, and is hoping for good weather.
Leighton said this year’s Bikeathon will be bittersweet for her — it is her last as a teacher, as she’s retiring this year.
“I’m really proud of our school and our staff and our students, and I’m really proud we’re doing this one more time.”
Visit bchs.spschools.org/for_students/bikeathon or call the school at 780-460-8490 for details on the event.