On any given Saturday, snowmachines carving through the Caribou Hills are a fairly typical sight, but seeing snowmachines driven by women dressed as mermaids, bunnies or a deck of cards requires a double take.
Still, that was the scene last Saturday as scores of women straddled their iron dogs for fun and fundraising as part of the 2010 Way Out Women (WOW) snowmachine ride to benefit cancer patients of the Kenai Peninsula.
"This is the sixth year and it just keeps on growing," said Kathy Lopeman, chair for the event and an oncology nurse at Central Peninsula Hospital.
"We had 43 people the first year," she added. "This year we have 18 teams, averaging five riders per team. Our youngest rider is 8 and our oldest is 70."
Lopeman said one reason for the growth in participation is that the word has spread that unlike some cancer-related charities, the money raised during the WOW ride doesn't leave the local area.
"I think people are more aware that this money stays here on the Kenai Peninsula," she said. "It helps people from Homer to Seward and everywhere in between."
The money is used to help people in a myriad of ways, such as paying for premedications before chemo-therapy that typically aren't covered by health insurance, covering babysitting costs for people in treatment, or offsetting transportation costs for patient to get to treatment, to name just a few.
"There's so many people in need and these $1,000 grants can go a long way," Lopeman said referring to the typical amount given for financial assistance.
"We try to help people who need just a little extra help," she said, "people who have a little insurance or savings, but not enough to get them through the big things."
In 2009 the WOW ride raised $57,000, but Lopeman said the goal was to raise even more this year.
"We're hoping to get $60,000," she said.
Based on the turnout on Saturday, Lopeman's goal seemed attainable.
"We raised $1,500 through the residents at Heritage Place," said Sandi Crawford, a member of the five-person "Metal Mermaids" team.
With colorful wigs, metal braziers and fish-bodies flopping off their lower halves as they rode, the mermaids said they had fun putting their costumes together, but their purpose for being a part of the event was to draw attention to the serious nature of trying to find a cure for cancer.
"We have a coworker -- Lori Vedders -- who had breast cancer, so we did this whole thing in her honor," Crawford said. "She's still off work and going through treatment, but she's in out thoughts today.
Holly Hart, a member of the five-person "Snow Bunnies" team, said she didn't personally know anyone affected by cancer, but she still wanted to support the event due to her sense of community.
"We heard about it and thought it would be a fun way to support a good cause," she said. "Our community is really good at coming together for those in need and I wanted to be a part of helping others."
In the end, Lopeman said attitudes such as Hart's are what make the WOW ride so successful, year after year.
"It's a great time to come out, join together and help family members, friends, neighbors and community members."
Joseph Robertia can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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