PARIS, Ont. – The delighted laughs of the athletes, the roar of engine after engine filing down the highway, and the hooting and cheering from family, friends and industry folk lining the driveway filled the air near the Paris Fairgrounds on Sept. 17, signalling the start of the seventh annual World’s Largest Truck Convoy.
The event was once again raising money in support of the Special Olympics, with organizers setting a goal to beat last year’s tally of $40,000. And beat it they did, with total donations reaching $54,000 by day’s end with the aid of 57 participating drivers.
“From a meagre beginning of 17 registered drivers (in the week leading up to the event), we are thrilled to have the 57 trucks turn out, and are once again astounded by the drivers’ determination to collect pledges for Special Olympics,” said Tammy Blackwell, event coordinator for the southern Ontario convoy. “While they enjoy the friendly competition for lead truck, they genuinely applaud each others’ efforts for the best results Ontario can achieve. Our sponsors ensure we have a foundation to continue this event and without their support as well we would be unable to have reached over $300,000 for Special Olympics in the past seven years.”
As in past years, the drivers raising money took part in that “friendly competition” to best each other by collecting the most pledges, with the victor being given the honour of ‘lead truck’ for the convoy. This year that privilege belonged to Don Poll, having raised $4,190 in support of the Special Olympics.
“This is what we fight for,” said Poll, a driver with Drumbo Transport out of Ayr, Ont., when asked how it felt to be named lead truck. “I was quite happy. It’s for a good cause. I have three nieces that are in the Special Olympics, so that helps out.”
Rounding out the top three spots for most money raised were Brian Hilton of MacKinnon Transport ($2,814) and Stephane Gauthier of SG Detailing and Polishing ($2,150).
Once underway, the convoy of trucks and its police escort wound itself west along Highways 403 and 401 to Putnam, Ont. before heading back to the Paris Fairgrounds for lunch, prize draws, speeches and a game of bocce – replacing the usual baseball game from past years – which pitted the top 12 truckers (based on pledges raised) against an eager group of Special Olympians.
Blackwell said the Special Olympics folks have been pushing to include a game bocce – an up-and-coming sport for the organization – at the event for the past couple of years. Event organizers channelled the game’s Italian heritage with a tongue-in-cheek tribute to the mob, which saw the participating truckers donning bright orange jumpsuits from the Milton prison, plastic handcuffs and name tags reading Lucky Luciano, Tony Soprano and other real and fictional mobsters.
“(The drivers) like it. They like that interaction,” Blackwell said. “I have had phone calls in the past when it was baseball, and it was, ‘How much to get onto the team this year?’ They are asking if $1,200 or $1,500 will get them onto the team.”
Rob Langille of Sharp Transportation in Cambridge, Ont., has relished hearing the athletes’ speeches at the event since he started attending four years ago.
“The first year I came here, I thought that if you left here and didn’t have a bit of a tear in your eye, then you’re not human. It’s that touching,” he told Truck News. “And they don’t give up; they have all the drive in the world. I wish I had half of it. I’d be a better person. That’s why I keep coming back; just to help out. If I didn’t drive then I’d come back as a volunteer.”
Having been at all seven southern Ontario convoys since the event’s inception, Barry Vivian, an owner/operator with Connell Transport in Hamilton, Ont., enjoys the camaraderie with his fellow truckers, but also the convoy itself, which sees Special Olympians filling the passenger seats in the trucks.
“It’s always nice to talk to them and meet them here. They are always so excited and bubbly…just to see them and their reactions, they’re so alive. It hits you right in the pit of the stomach and just makes you want to help out that much more,” he said.
And no one appreciates the truckers’ enthusiasm and willingness to help more than the Special Olympics organization itself.
“The interaction between the drivers and the athletes has always been amazing,” said Lynn Miller, manager of marketing and fundraising for Special Olympics Ontario. “It is a feel-good opportunity for the drivers to be engaged with athletes, not only from this community but athletes across Ontario. They are very benevolent and enthusiastic, and they love to see what their funds can do for the athletes.”
“A lot of friendships have come out of this event and a lot of the athletes come back every year and request to be with certain truck drivers who they have formed those bonds with over the years,” added Cody Jansma, manager of Ontario Law Enforcement Torch Run, at his first convoy with the organization.
“I think they’re very appreciative of what the truckers do and the amount of money that they raise for their program that let them go and play the sports that they want to play.”
Manitoba convoy breaks fundraising record
But the southern Ontario version of the World’s Largest Truck Convoy wasn’t the only one hitting the highways in support of the Special Olympics in September. Special Olympics Manitoba hosted its own convoy event Sept. 17, winding its way from Oak Bluff around Highway 101 and back, raising a record-breaking $45,000 in the process.
“Special Olympics Manitoba (SOM) was thrilled with the enthusiastic support of both the trucking industry and the law enforcement community that made this event so successful,” officials told Truck News. “SOM has over 2,100 athletes who benefit directly from funds raised at events throughout the year, and to have raised over $45,000 at this event was an unexpected, yet wonderful, surprise. We’re looking forward to seeing all of our new friends again next year.”
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