When Garry Janz and his fellow volunteers organized the first ever Motorcycle Ride for Dad in Ottawa in 2000, they had no idea it would take off like it has.
"We were interested in doing a little event in Ottawa to raise money for prostate cancer and when we first started, there was absolutely no thought in going anywhere else," said Mr. Janz, president of the Ride for Dad in a telephone interview.
It wasn't long before they started getting calls from cancer centres across the country asking them to put on a ride in their community.
"Nobody was doing anything for prostate cancer," he said.
This year marks the 10th anniversary of the Ride for Dad and it has gone from one small ride with 75 participants to 27 events across the country this year. Mr. Janz expects 15,000 riders to participate.
Mr. Janz got interested in prostate cancer several years ago when he was making a television documentary on cancer survivors in Kingston, Ont.
One of the men who Mr. Janz interviewed had prostate cancer. Despite this fact, he was always positive and upbeat, which led Mr. Janz to believe that prostate cancer was not all that serious.
That all changed over a cup of coffee.
"Charlie and I were talking over a coffee one morning and I asked him what he was doing in the afternoon, and he said to me: 'If someone would have told me one year earlier about the PSA test, I wouldn't be going home this afternoon to arrange my own funeral,'" Mr. Janz recalled.
One thing led to another, and Mr. Janz began networking with people in Ottawa to help him organize the first ever Motorcycle Ride for Dad in 2000. Despite the small turnout and the poor weather, they managed to raise $20,000.
In 23 events in 2009, $1.7 million was raised for prostate cancer research and awareness.
The money stays where the money is raised. In some communities more funding is allocated towards research, but in other communities where little research is being done, the money goes towards awareness and education.
"Over the past 10 years I have learned a lot about prostate cancer and one of the things I have learned is the only cure for prostate cancer right now is early detection," said Mr. Janz. "And you can't detect it if you don't get it checked. If we can get business leaders (and other high profile men) talking about it, maybe the average guy will too, and go get checked."
When Mr. Janz first met with doctors in Ottawa a decade ago to talk about prostate cancer research he was surprised and disappointed to find that there was very little being done.
He credits the money raised in the Ride for Dad for providing seed money for much-needed research. Mr. Janz was pleasantly surprised to find that many researchers have turned that seed money into much bigger grants and more in-depth research.
They get over 100 applications for funding each year. A panel of experts decides which ones are the most promising.
Mr. Janz is extremely excited about being involved with the 10th anniversary ride that will take motorcyclists across the country. This is a one-time event that is separate from the other community-based Ride for Dad events.
"It is the most awesome thing that has ever happened in this country for prostate cancer."
The riders will leave St. John's, N.L., on August 1 and arrive in Victoria, B.C., on August 29.
"We will get all kinds of weather," jokes Mr. Janz.
He is particularly looking forward to the Highway of Heroes portion of the cross-Canada trip, as it is expected to be have the largest number of participants and is linked with one of the beneficiaries of the ride – the Military Families Fund.
Mr. Janz said the Canadian Forces have been very supportive of the ride since its inception.
"The Canadian Army Veterans (a motorcycle organization) was founded at a Ride for Dad event and has grown into thousands of people across the country and they support us everywhere," said Mr. Janz. "The military put up tents for us when it's raining, they publicize the ride, and they get the word out. So what better way than this to show our thanks to the Canadian Forces."
Photo: Motorcycle Ride for Dad on Carling Avenue in Ottawa.