LINING UP SUPPORT: Last year, trucks from all over Alberta (including the one pictured) combined to raise money for Special Olympics through the World's Largest Truck Convoy. Ontario also participated along with most states.
EDMONTON, Alta. – One Saturday in September will be shared as a special occasion by a group of charitable truckers and admirable athletes.
On Sept. 16 an Alberta contingent of truckers will ride along Hwy. 2 as part of the World’s Largest Truck Convoy event.
The Guinness Book of World Records event is a unique partnership between truckers and law enforcement in an effort to raise funds and support for athletes of the Special Olympics.
“We had quite good participation last year,” noted Christa LaForce, coordinator of the Alberta leg of the convoy. “We had 28 participants: 16 from Edmonton and 12 from Calgary. We raised $3,000 when all was said and done.”
As a former employee of Edmonton Kenworth and a current member of the Edmonton Police Service, LaForce has experience working with both groups of the fundraisers.
“My husband is involved in the Law Enforcement Torch Run and asked if I wanted to coordinate this event,” she explained. “Last year was my first year and it went fairly well, we got a positive response from the participants.”
Police officers around North America involved in the Law Enforcement Torch Run for Special Olympics have made the WLTC one of their annual events. In Alberta alone there are 3,000 athletes who are supported by about 1,500 volunteers.
“We aim to enrich the lives of disabled people through sport,” explained Jocelyn Plakas-Lock, vice-president of Special Olympics Alberta. “We have eight or nine signature events that happen every year and then there are events people may do one year and not the next.”
The convoy is an international fundraising event which was conceived in 2001 by Corp. Norm Schneiderhan, special project coordinator for the Orange County Sheriff’s Office in Florida.
As a young man he drove truck for three years in his father’s company before entering law enforcement.
He initiated the event to bring awareness of the Special Olympics to truckers.
Last year nearly 1,800 truckers lined highways across North America and raised $439,309. This year the event is expected to attract even more drivers through the participation of 34 States and events in Alberta, Manitoba and Ontario.
Alberta will have two convoys on Sept. 16, one starting in Edmonton and one starting in Calgary. This year the organizers are hoping to have 100 trucks involved in the Alberta leg of the event.
“Our main goal through this event is to raise awareness,” noted Plakas-Lock. “It was a good awareness event when the trucks were going through the city. People phoned the radio stations and talked about what was going on. The word of mouth has been really good; there are a lot of enthusiastic people participating in the event.”
Word of mouth is what led Greg White of Bison Transport to participating in the WLTC in Alberta last year. While hauling a load of meat down to Loredo, Tex., White heard about the event from another trucking couple.
“It struck a note for me because my sister is mentally handicapped and has been in the Special Olympics,” explained White. “I could use my career of the last 20 to 25 years to benefit others and the Special Olympics.”
Last year White drove in the Alberta contingent and shortly after he and his wife drove down to Minneapolis to partake in that leg of the convoy.
White has since turned his enthusiasm for the event into an ambassadorship.
White and his wife are now ambassadors for the Special Olympics and spend a lot of their time raising awareness for the event. They are also helping another couple who are organizing the World’s Largest Truck Convoy contingent in Winnipeg this year. It is Winnipeg’s first time participating in the event and their leg of the convoy is set to run on July 15.
“It’s just an amazing event all around,” he noted. “It’s a wonderful cause; I think we get more of a kick out of it than the athletes. I just can’t explain it.”
In Alberta at the end of the convoy the truckers pay a special tribute to the athletes on-hand.
Each convoy leaves its respected city and heads along Hwy. 2 where the teams meet up at Westerner Park.
“Last year all the trucks lined up and set their horns off simultaneously for the athletes,” said LaForce. “It brought tears to everybody’s eyes, it was very powerful.”
At Westerner Park there will be a BBQ celebration, which will provide a chance for everyone to relax, meet and greet the Special Olympians and law enforcement and hand out awards.
“There’s an athlete’s choice award for the favourite truck from each starting point,” noted LaForce.
The starting point in Calgary will be at Finning Cat in the city’s northeast and the Edmonton starting point will be at Northlands Park.
A number of other awards will be presented to the participants including an award for: top trucker; for the driver who raises the most money; company with the most trucks; and truck with the most ‘bling-bling.’
There are different levels of sponsorship available for large groups of trucks and the registration fee for an individual truck is $100, which goes to the Special Olympics.
A silent bid will also be set up to auction off the first and last place trucks in the convoy.
The bidding progression will be posted on a Web site as bids roll in, with the closing date set for Sept. 1.
Registration for the event is also encouraged for the first day of September, but the organizers are not making that date concrete.
“We’re pretty lenient, last year we took registration right up until the day of (the event),” explained LaForce.
“People could show up at the start point and provided they have all their documentation in place they can join. We’re not going to turn anyone away.”
Once all the convoys have run, it will be time for the convoy to re-write the record books.
“After all the events are done we put all the number of trucks together and put it in the Guinness Book of World Records,” said Plakas-Lock.