PARIS, Ont. -- The Ontario leg of the World’s Largest Truck Convoy lived up to its name Sept. 14, with truckers, law enforcement officers, Special Olympians and other industry friends gathering at the Paris Fairgrounds to celebrate...
PARIS, Ont. — The Ontario leg of the World’s Largest Truck Convoy lived up to its name Sept. 14, with truckers, law enforcement officers, Special Olympians and other industry friends gathering at the Paris Fairgrounds to celebrate reaching the largest-ever fundraising total in the event’s nine-year history: an impressive $80,000 in support of the Special Olympics.
The convoy itself consisted of 48 trucks escorted by 14 police cruisers – the largest law enforcement presence the Paris event has ever had – on a journey west along Highways 403 and 401 to Putnam, Ont. before returning back to the fairgrounds. Riding shotgun for the two-hour journey beside each trucker was a Special Olympian, an experience that both the athletes and the drivers say is typically their favourite part of the weekend event.
”When we get paired up with an athlete, we bring them out to the trucks and their eyes light up. It’s a few hours of enjoyment, but it’s a lifetime of memories. I will never forget doing this. I really enjoy it,” said Leonard Taylor, a driver with Challenger Motor Freight. Taylor was back for his second year at the convoy, bringing with him the third-highest sponsorship total of $2,722. Assisting Taylor in reaching that total was none other than Challenger owner Dan Einwechter.
”I just told him about the sponsorship, he didn’t bat an eye, didn’t knock twice and he just said, ‘Here you go. Here’s your sponsorship,’ which was really nice,” Taylor said.
Drumbo Transport driver Ron Walsh raised the second-highest amount at $5,000 flat – with last-minute volunteers chipping in the extra funds when he was found to be just shy of the impressive total. Now in his fourth year at the convoy, Walsh says he really enjoys the camaraderie that the event affords.
”How many people really get together and agree on something? It’s just beautiful,” he says. “It’s such a great cause.”
Raising a whopping $7,000 in donations – which earned him the honour of Lead Truck during the convoy – was Scott Verbruggen of Verbruggen Trucking. Verbruggen is a regular on the show truck circuit and decided to parlay his industry connections into a money-making venture.
”Last year was my first year coming here. I had a great time. This year, I just had an idea: I wanted to sell more, I wanted something bigger. I do a lot of truck shows in the summer and I know a lot of guys with nice trucks, and I had the idea of taking pictures of these nice trucks and making a calendar,” Verbruggen told Truck News.
Selling for $15 a pop, the calendars sold in the hundreds, thanks, in part, to the salesmanship of Verbruggen’s three brothers and his riding partner during the convoy, Special Olympian Chris. Chris linked up with Verbruggen through a connection with Chris’s brother and has made himself something of a local hero in his hometown of Woodstock, Ont., with not one, but four Olympic sports to his credit: baseball, soccer, basketball and floor hockey.
”He’s like a living legend,” beams Verbruggen. “If you go to a hockey rink or ball diamond…everybody knows Chris.”
Verbruggen says plans are already in the works for creating a calendar to support next year’s convoy.
“Personally, I just want to do more. I want to do something for other people. I just like to give back,” he says.
Event organizer Tammy Blackwell says that witnessing this generous nature is what keeps her coming back year after year.
“It’s a benevolent industry. I like to help facilitate the industry’s opportunity to show the public what we can do and how we can give back,” she said.
The World’s Largest Truck Convoy got its start in Florida back in 2001 before expanding to numerous locations across Canada and the US, and raising millions for the Special Olympics. Since the beginning, the event has operated in partnership with the Law Enforcement Torch Run.
”I think it’s a unique fundraiser. It’s a lot different than anything we do involving the trucking community,” said Cody Jansma, manager of the Ontario Law Enforcement Torch Run. “(The truck drivers) love the interaction with the police and especially the athletes…They keep wanting to come back. They feel good to be involved with an industry-leading event and they do it for a great charitable cause.”
”The law enforcement community is a heavy supporter of the Special Olympics. For the past 25 years, law enforcement nationwide has been involved in helping raise funds for athletes,” says Staff Sgt. Kevin MacBean of Peel Regional Police. When asked what’s kept him coming back for the past three years, MacBean said: “It’s interaction with the athletes – that’s number one. It’s also interaction with the truckers. We do see each other on the road, but this is different. We’re all gathering together to raise funds for Special Olympics.”
In addition to the convoy itself, the day’s agenda included a lunch, awards presentation, auction, raffle, family entertainment, and a truck pull – with athletes, police officers and truckers using their own muscles as horsepower to pull the trucks by rope. “First one over the line with the truck wins,” Blackwell says.
As for what’s planned for the event’s 10th anniversary next year, Blackwell remains tight-lipped on the details, but promises a few surprises that will get people talking – and is hopeful for an even larger World’s Largest Truck Convoy.
For more information on next year’s event, visit www.truckconvoy.ca.