Damian Cownden is one of the fastest riders on two wheels and even becoming a kidney donor couldn't slow him down.
"I was back in the gym a month after my surgery and back to drag racing five months after my surgery," said Cownden, this year's honouree for the Kidney Walk and Ride For Life events in Penticton. "If people are apprehensive about donating, I hope sharing my story can ease their worries."
On Aug. 10 Cownden will be just one of many hopping on a motorbike in the inaugural Ride For Life poker run event starting at the west end of Skaha Park. In December of last year his father became seriously ill, causing double-kidney failure leaving him in need of a kidney transplant. Cownden was a match and the three-time Canadian Drag Racing champion dropped everything to give his father, Vince Cownden, a second chance at life.
The Ride For Life event supports individuals like Cownden and their families who are affected by kidney disease by raising awareness about the seriousness of the disease and highlights the importance of organ donation. Funds are also raised for critical programs and services.
There is no cost to register, and riders are matched up with a person on the kidney transplant list, is already a kidney recipient or is a person who has donated. Shirlee Petrat, who donated her kidney 11 years ago to her husband, said she is riding as a passenger on Aug. 10 for her friend and fellow Penticton Kidney event advocate Teresa Atkinson.
"We are hoping we might create enough awareness for someone to step forward and say they would like to donate, or at least to sign an organ donor card. We will have a donation tent set up so people can sign registration cards and for anyone who wants to donate money. We have one rider who has already started a campaign and they have raised over $500 already," said Petrat, who is the Kidney event co-ordinator.
A free Ride For Life patch is given to those who pre-register before Aug. 8, or it will be $25 for the patch if a rider wants one on Aug. 10 at the on-site registration. Registration opens at 9 a.m. with kickstands up at 10 a.m. and the last rider from the west end of Skaha Park out by 10:30 a.m. Riders head to Kelowna to the Harley-Davidson shop, go to Highway 33 up to Rock Creek Pub and stop in Osoyoos before returning to Penticton where they are welcomed at Skaha Park with a barbecue followed by speeches by Cownden and his father. Scheduled stops are made where the Kidney event road team have tents set up with cards for the poker run and the highest score at the end will win a prize. Petrat said they are still looking for volunteers and any businesses or individuals who want to donate prizes or give money to the cause.
"There are 2,000 people on dialysis in B.C. and 400 of those are on a transplant list waiting for a kidney. Nobody knows who those 400 people are. They are just a number and we want to put a face to the number. That is the purpose of the ride to bring that awareness and emotional impact," said Petrat. "If there is anyone out there on the kidney transplant list please contact us because we want to include you."
Since 2008, thousands of participants and volunteers have helped the Kidney Walk campaign raise over $860,000 for kidney patients in B.C. This year the goal is to raise $340,000 province-wide.
Penticton will also host The Kidney Foundation's annual Kidney Walk on Sept. 22 at 9 a.m. at Riverside Village. To find out more information about the event visit www.kidney.ca. Those interested in volunteering or giving corporate donations/prizes can contact Petrat at 250-494-7323, 250-809-7736 or by email at email@example.com.