Carol Leuken

Winter fundraiser warms hearts

Carol Lueken
You can’t travel with Prairie Women on Snowmobiles and not be changed.

It was late 1999 when 2 friends, one of them a breast cancer survivor, came to the Regina office of the Canadian Cancer Society and pitched the idea of getting together a bunch of women to snowmobile across the province to raise money for breast cancer research. Society staffer Colleen Magee recalls, “We really didn’t know if it would work.”

It did work. And 15 years later, Prairie Women on Snowmobiles (PWOS) is still a phenomenon. The annual ride has taken its mission of awareness and support to dozens of communities throughout Saskatchewan, raising $2.4 million for breast cancer research along the way.

“Every year, we travel a different route,” says Carol Leuken, president, PWOS executive team. “In every corner of the province, support for Prairie Women is strong.”

Would-be riders apply for one of the coveted 10 positions on the team. They have to be able to ride more than 200 km a day, in all conditions. But snowmobiling expertise is not the only requirement – they must also be able to speak in public about why they’re riding with PWOS.

Throughout the 1,400-km expedition, the team makes stops at community centres and schools.

“Our message is awareness,” says Carol. “We talk about the importance of early detection. We encourage to be aware of what is normal for their breasts, even if they get regular screening tests.”

They also talk about the impact of research – like the work of Dr Rama Khokha and the Innovation Grant that was named for PWOS in recognition of their accomplishments. The group also established the Prairie Women on Snowmobiles Breast Cancer Research Impact Fund, which supports the most promising breast cancer research across the country.

They’ve seen growing success over the years. “We give out survivor pins every day,” explains Carol. “In 2004, we went through 120 pins on an 8-day ride. Now we’re giving out 250 to 300 pins. We’re seeing a lot more survivors and hearing their stories. That’s what keeps us going year after year.”

Colleen Magee travelled with PWOS in 2015. “It’s long hours, but they don’t complain. They’re raring to go the next day, and they’re amazing ambassadors for the cause.”

As for why PWOS has worked so well for so long, Colleen says it’s due to “their passion for making a difference and combining it with an activity they love. You can’t travel with Prairie Women on Snowmobiles and not be changed.”

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