Prairie Women on Snowmobiles (PWOS) Mission 2019, held from February 3 to 8, raised over $83,000 for the Canadian Cancer Society and the Saskatchewan Cancer Agency. Among the 10 core riders were Kim Hladun and Shawna Leson of Canora, and Brandi Kashuba of Preeceville.
PWOS is a non-profit organization whose annual missions are provincial awareness events designed to focus attention on breast cancer and the recreation of snowmobiling as well as raise much-needed funds for breast cancer research.
The scheduled route for Mission 2019 covered approximately 1,400 kilometres:
• February 3: Meadow Lake, St. Walburg, Turtleford, Meota and North Battleford
• February 4: Cut Knife, Unity, Kerrobert and Kindersley
• February 5: Eatonia, Leader, Fox Valley and Maple Creek
• February 6: Gull Lake, Swift Current, Kyle and Rosetown
• February 7: Delisle, Biggar, Asquith and Martensville
• February 8: Hague, Duck Lake, MacDowall and the finale in Prince Albert.
But on the final day, the riders made an unplanned detour into Rosthern. The night before, organizers had received an e-mail from a husband whose wife was in the middle of her cancer journey, said Kelly Kim Rea of Norquay, PWOS president.
“She had finished treatment for breast cancer and was starting brain and liver cancer treatments.”
Rea said that, in addition to fund raising, one of the core purposes of PWOS is “to let people know they’re not alone.”
Leson said this was one of the truly memorable moments of the trip.
“He asked if one of the team members could find a way to acknowledge his beautiful, courageous wife,” she recalled. “Instead, our executive made the decision to detour to their community. We stopped at the house to deliver a prayer blanket, the semi honked the horn and then all the core riders and support riders waved to her as we passed their home. It was the most emotional moment of the mission for me. To see her face and be able to give her a thumbs up was an incredible feeling. The request itself was the most compassionate experience; to see that raw compassion, empathy and love this man has for his wife.”
Kashuba said the reaction from this woman was remarkable.
“She was so excited, and then she said, ‘Why am I so special to receive such a beautiful gift,’ which was really amazing,” said Kashuba.
Hladun said another unforgettable moment for her occurred on day three.
“Our stop in Leader was when I realized why I was on this mission,” remembered Hladun. “I met a wonderful elderly cancer survivor there, who I connected with online that evening and have been in contact with ever since.”
“As we were riding into Duck Lake, we were greeted by a group of middle years students and their sign, ‘We're Part of the Fight.’ This gesture brought tears to my eyes that these students would come out in the extreme cold for high fives and fist bumps as we rode by. They were super pumped to see us.
“Every survivor we met and pinned made being out there in the cold weather worth it. They were all very thankful and appreciative of what we were doing. One cancer survivor said, ‘I feel very honoured to have been pinned and hugged by some very special women today,’ which will stay in our hearts forever.”
Hladun said the planned events during the week kept everyone busy.
“We tried our best to stay on schedule as all of the communities expecting us had coffee and baking, snacks, a warm dinner of soup/chili, or delicious banquets planned at each of the stops,” she said. “We did a short program at each of these location, where we introduced each rider and where she was from, the history of PWOS, as well as a pinning ceremony to celebrate any cancer survivors. During our evening banquets each of the core riders gave their speech on their reasons for taking part in the mission.”
Kashuba said she appreciated the opportunity to be part of the pinning ceremonies, but found herself overwhelmed by emotions on a number of occasions.
“It was very emotional when we were presented with comfort quilts in Martensville, which PWOS will pass along to cancer survivors,” she said.
“It was so amazingly heartwarming to see how each community comes together to support their own people and care for each other,” added Leson. “The RCMP escort in Unity had me crying buckets.”
In addition to Hladun, Leson and Kashuba, the other seven core riders were: Shauna Menzel, Janis Stanley, Kaylee Plamondon, Arlene Lockinger, Alison Taylor, Brittany Fox and Nadine Wiebe-Trapp. The four members of the pit crew were given special nicknames for the week, just to add some more fun to the event: Clint (“Cecilia”) Taylor, Wyatt (“Whisper”) Smith, John (“Jumper”) Lamon and Kelly (“Kiwi”) Phinney.
Leson said at the start the ride on February 3 in Meadow Lake, she felt many different emotions.
“My anxiety had gotten to me that first day,” she admitted. “I was a bit overwhelmed but at the same time, I couldn’t wait to get out there. The temperature read -39C, breakfast was at 5 a.m. and we had to be on our sleds leaving Meadow Lake at 6:30 a.m.
“The emotions, driving through a storm to get to Meadow Lake, having a child get the flu in the hotel the night before (which meant no sleep at all), the extreme cold, darkness and so on all overwhelmed me. In my helmet, I thought, no one going through cancer gets to have a pass and say, ‘no thanks, not today’ and I wasn’t going to either. I told myself to suck it up and do it, so, I did.”
Kashuba said the riders and the machines felt the effects of the cold weather right from day one.
“The first challenge we had was just outside of Meadow Lake. The pit crew was busy with thawing frozen gas lines on the snowmobiles,” she recalled. “That was the longest day for all of us, what with traveling 13 hours and 253 km. My helmet froze up a few times."
“With proper base layers, as well as several other layers, and hand and toe warmers we managed in the cold as best we could,” said Hladun. “When I would get cold, I reminded myself that the people who are fighting cancer didn't have an option to choose when they fight, so I reminded myself to suck it up and persevere through the conditions and remembered my "Why" for riding.”
She said snow conditions were excellent for the first two days of the trip, and again on the last day.
“There was plenty of fresh snow, which was waist deep in some places,” said Hladun. “We know that as we ‘may have’ gotten stuck once or twice along the way. On day two we loaded up our sleds when we got to Kerrobert and they stayed on the trailer for days three, four and five. The southern part of the route didn't have adequate snow so on these days we traveled in a van and still made the scheduled stops.
“The van days were great bonding opportunities, plus we were able to spend more time at the venues visiting with the people who came out to meet us. There was a chance for us to ride part of day five, but some of the sleds refused to go to work that day and wouldn't start after spending the night outside in the extreme cold.”
Leson said she enjoyed meeting “the most amazing people” during the week, but then found it extremely difficult to leave them.
“It was hard knowing they are still battling, in pain and distress and there was nothing I could do to take that away from them.”
Core riders from previous PWOS Missions were once again important contributors to Mission 2019.
“We met them all along the way,” said Leson. “They were encouraging and full of advice and support. As well, many of them were leaders, support riders or were part of planning the banquets, dinners and coffee stops. Over the span of 18 years of missions, there are a lot of Prairie Women on Snowmobiles past core riders throughout Saskatchewan.”
Leson encourages any woman who has the opportunity to be a core rider in future years to take advantage of it.
“I would tell them there are no words to describe the mission and it is something they just need to experience,” she said. “I can’t see that anyone would ever regret being involved in PWOS but someday, you could regret never seizing the opportunity.”
As the youngster of group at age 22, Kashuba said it was an amazing opportunity to combine her love of snowmobiling with contributing to the cause.
"I was very excited to be chosen as one of the 10 core riders with Prairie Women on Snowmobiles, for the 2019 mission. I am so grateful that I had the opportunity to experience this at a young age.”
Kashuba said after going through it once, she is more than willing to return as a core rider in the future if the need arises, and that anyone thinking about joining the group “should get right on it.”
“Don’t wait to apply, it’s a life changing experience,” she said. “It’s a big commitment to do the fundraising and take a week off work, but it’s so rewarding and important.
“I want to encourage both men and women to get screened. Prairie Women on Snowmobiles is all about promoting early detection of cancer and safe snowmobiling."
Leson was also grateful for the opportunity to be part of Mission 2019.
“I know that with the funds raised, someone’s journey will be a little more comfortable but my biggest hope, is that with the money raised, someone will finally find the cancer cure,” she said.
“Every person we met along the mission was memorable and I can say our team itself became close very quickly as well. We are now our own Mission 2019 family and have made many plans to get together again. I have also reached out and messaged people we met along the trip. I want to continue to hear about their journey as they battle cancer. I want them to know they have my continued support, thoughts and prayers.
“Receiving a message from Jeannie Brewer, one of the women responsible for starting PWOS, and her saying she’s proud of us sealed it for me. I am proud, honoured, humbled and in awe of this organization.”
“I am truly honoured to have been a part of such an amazing group of women and men who shared a common bond,” added Hladun. “We started out as strangers and left as great friends. There are no words to describe this life changing experience.”
PWOS Mission 2019 raised nearly $60,000 for the Saskatchewan Cancer Agency, which will be used for purchasing equipment, and almost $24,000 for the Canadian Cancer Society, to be used to fund further cancer research. Over the past 18 years PWOS has raised approximately $2.5 million.