ATHABASCA — The 13th iteration of Road to Hope’s annual golf tournament was a swinging success Sept. 7 where 144 golfers hit the links to raise money for the local cancer treatment ride service at the Athabasca Golf and Country Club.
Road to Hope was founded in 2008 by Alberta Pacific Forest Industries, and since the annual tournament began in 2008, Coordinator Jessica Wallace said the event has become an end-of-summer staple for locals.
“The community really comes together and supports us on this one,” said Wallace in a Sept. 7 interview. “Everyone expects it to be on this day and this weekend every year, so it’s kind of becoming its own thing in the community, which is great,” she added.
In previous years, the tournament raised over $20,000, a majority of which goes toward reimbursing drivers for mileage. Wallace said with every team slot filled this year, she believes the tournament has again surpassed $20,000, but the official fundraising count was not available before publication.
In addition to enjoying a sunny day on the course, golfers had the option of participating in paid mini-games, like a chipping station and a spin to win prize wheel featuring items ranging from a six-piece cast iron cooking set and a $550 windshield replacement to a diamond necklace, all donated by local businesses.
Routes to healing
Road to Hope supports approximately 20 clients within Athabasca and Lac La Biche counties, and with the help of approximately 14 drivers, provides free transport to and from treatment appointments in centres such as Edmonton, Barrhead, Westlock, and Bonnyville.
Organization director and volunteer driver Del Day has been active with Road to Hope for three years, citing his own connections to cancer as the driving force behind his involvement. “I lost my wife to cancer, and I thought it was something I could do to help other people,” said Day. “I didn’t realize there was so much cancer in the area but … I’ve driven 8,000 kilometres so far this year.”
According to an April 21 email from Wallace, over 32,000 kilometres were covered by volunteer drivers in 2022, and the first quarter of 2023 clocked in at 11,122 kilometres. “There is a definite upward trend which means our services are a much-needed support for our rural communities,” noted Wallace in the email.
Nicole Rysdyk is a former director for the organization, and now acts as a volunteer for events in addition to being a client. Rysdyk received her cancer diagnosis seven years ago, and says she’s grateful for the level of support provided by the organization.
“I have a husband that works away and two kids in school, so I’m on my own a lot, said Rysdyk. “If I need a ride, I just give them a call. Jessica, our coordinator is awesome, she gets us hooked up with a driver and picked up from home and dropped off.”
Clients are welcome to bring a companion for the trip at no extra charge, and Rysdyk noted clients can also opt to have drivers accompany them to appointments for moral support.
“It’s pretty awesome, because there’s a lot of people who don’t have help or rides, or people don’t drive or are too sick to drive. I’m lucky because I can drive most of the time, but I like to take somebody with me, I don’t like going alone for treatments,” said Rysdyk.
Despite a Stage 4 palliative prognosis, Rysdyk said she only uses the program if friends and family are busy due to the high demand for the service, but noted the company and connections made with drivers during her trips to Edmonton are memorable.
“I think it’s awesome, and that’s why I keep giving back.”
Day noted he doesn’t often drive repeat clients, and while every client is on a unique journey, he notices one constant: their attitude. “They’re very appreciative, it’s something that a lot of them rely on, they don’t have any other way to get there, it’s really difficult,” said Day.
Even in the face of difficulties, “I love it,” he added. “The people are so positive and they all have different problems of course … everybody it seems is suffering in a different way, [but] I really find it positive.
With a large service area to cover, Wallace said new volunteers are always welcome, and the organization is actively in search of volunteer drivers in the Boyle and Lac La Biche areas.