In 1994, Barry Phippen endured a wrench in life no parent should ever have to handle.
His six year old daughter was diagnosed with terminal cancer, given a few months to survive and no chance for recovery.
"All of those images of children fighting for their lives are burnt into my mind and can never be removed," Phippen said. "There is so much pain out there and I wanted to try and relieve some of that in some way."
An avid motorcyclist, Phippen did what motorcyclists do - arrange a fund-raising ride to help others in the fight against cancer. In 1999, the first "Freedom Ride" embarked from the "Phippen Signs" shop in New Liskeard, Ontario, Canada about 300 miles north of Toronto.
That day, 20 bikes showed up along with one vendor.
It was considered a big turnout for such a small town, but Phippen and a handful of volunteers felt something larger was brewing. For the next five years, the ride continued though not every year. But in 2004, the inaugural and re-named "New Liskeard Bikers Reunion" revved to life and, now annually, it's a safe bet a lot more than 20 riders show when the 2014 fest kicks off June 26.
Last year, a caravan of 6,000 bikers stretched 15 miles long surrounded by 25,000 onlookers and attendees of the now weekend-long event. But best of all, Bikers Reunion raised $118,000 for the Cancer Care Unit at Temiskaming Hospital in New Liskeard pushing the total raised since the first ride to more than $800,000.
"We are not like your typical bike rally," Phippen said of the Reunion's popularity. "There are so many different events within the event. There is something for everyone - bikers and non-bikers from children to grandparents. They all enjoy our show."
Bikers Reunion is a four-day weekend of fun that attracts riders from the United States and Europe. It's so big Phippen sets up a tent camp at the New Liskeard Fair Grounds. The docket includes music acts, a silent auction, thrill shows, sideshows, demo rides and even parasailing, among other entertainment. What's billed as a celebration of motorcycles finishes on June 29 with the 70 mile long "Terry Phippen Memorial Freedom Ride" named in honor of Barry's brother who died from cancer.
"We are expecting as many riders and spectators as last year but as the event gets better known more will come," Phippen said. "The Freedom Ride is amazing and has to be experienced to feel the spirit and the excitement it generates for the riders and onlookers."
The ride travels along the shores of Lake Temiskaming but stops first at Temiskaming Hospital where motorcyclists give care packages and flowers to all the patients, staff and really anyone in the building. That, Phippen said, sets the tone for the rest of the ride. His fund-raising goal this year is a secret but he has a plan in place and is waiting to see how it plays out.
"Bikers Reunion is a lot fun with friendly northern hospitality and is an event which is totally different than anything you'll experience," Phippen said.
By the way, Phippen's daughter is now a happy, healthy 26 year old.
Mail-in registration for Bikers Reunion has ended however you can still sign up at the event beginning at 12 p.m. Thursday and throughout the weekend. Cost is $15 per biker, $40 for tent site and $65 for RV site. The New Liskeard Fair Grounds is located at 20 May St. South in New Liskeard, ON, Canada.
Written By: AndrewT