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The WOW factor

Way Out Women snowmachine riders have fun while they raise funds for cancer victims and their families

Posted: Sunday, March 09, 2008

 

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  Diane Hinshaw, also known as "Miss Deep Creek," waits her turn to ride outside Straight In Lodge in the Caribou Hills. Proceeds raised by the WOW ride pay for transportation to and from Anchorage and Seattle for cancer treatment, helps buy groceries and even pays for medical expenses health insurance doesn't cover.

Kathi Garcia, also known as "Miss Waterhole", speeds after other members of the "Miss Caribou Hills" team at this year's Way Out Women snowmachine ride in the Caribou Hills earlier this month. Each member of the Miss Caribou Hills team glued a glittery tiara on their helmets and wore sashes representing Caribou Hills landmarks. Garcia's name comes from Grandpa's Waterhole, Waterhole trail's namesake.

Ericka Reynold's first reaction when doctors diagnosed her with leukemia on Thanksgiving in 2006 was disbelief.

"I thought they misdiagnosed me," she said.

 

Members of the Miss Caribou Hills snowmachine team pose for the camera. Having traded their swimsuits for evening gowns, the Miss Caribou Hills memers each wore a sash bearing the name of a Caribou Hills landmark.

At 13, Ericka is a seventh-grader at Kenai Middle School. Her favorite subject is history. She plays forward on the soccer team, wants to be a chef when she grows up and if she were a superhero, she could read minds. But little more than a year ago, Ericka found herself at a Seattle hospital facing the first of five rounds of chemotherapy.

"The worst part was losing her hair, the mouth sores and the puking," said Ericka's mother, Melody Ruhl. "The end of treatment (was in) June. We came home in July."

Almost a year after her cancer treatment was completed, Ericka received a standing ovation as she downed chili and chicken and rice soup. Ericka, with a full head of hair, clad in black snowpants, was warming up after her first Way Out Women (WOW) snowmachine ride. She was ride coordinator Kathy Lopeman's guest of honor. It was a WOW grant that helped take care of travel expenses to and from Seattle, Ericka's mom said.

 

The ride made a circle through the popular snowmachine destination near Ninilchik. More than 100 women paid the $100 entry fee and gathered pledges to raise money to help cancer patients on the Kenai Peninsula. Ride coordinator Kathy Lopeman said so far the ride brought in $52,937 with more money trickling in.

Now that Ericka's cancer free, Ruhl says the little things don't bother them anymore, that friends and family are more important.

"My point of view on life has changed," she said. "(We've) learned to live life every day to its fullest."

 

Diane Hinshaw, also known as "Miss Deep Creek," waits her turn to ride outside Straight In Lodge in the Caribou Hills. Proceeds raised by the WOW ride pay for transportation to and from Anchorage and Seattle for cancer treatment, helps buy groceries and even pays for medical expenses health insurance doesn't cover.

The sun and clear skies that saw the week out disappeared under a layer of clouds as snow fell on the Caribou Hills Saturday. More than 100 snowmachines waited outside Straight In Lodge at the end of Oil Well Road for their riders; women whose lives were touched by cancer. Rather than mail a check to the American Cancer Society, these ladies pulled swim suits over their snow gear, glued sombreros and tiaras to their helmets, wrapped tulle around their bunny boots and gathered tens of thousands of dollars in pledges. Toto, the Scarecrow and the Wicked Witch of the West made a trip out of Oz and mingled with a group of sumo wrestlers.

"We wanted something that could fit over our snow gear," said Brandi Heath, co-owner of Phormation Chiropractic and Day Spa in Soldotna, as she zipped a peach sumo suit over her snowpant and jackets. "And we support Central Peninsula Hospital."

 

Diane Hinshaw, also known as "Miss Deep Creek," waits her turn to ride outside Straight In Lodge in the Caribou Hills. Proceeds raised by the WOW ride pay for transportation to and from Anchorage and Seattle for cancer treatment, helps buy groceries and even pays for medical expenses health insurance doesn't cover.

Heath, her mother Sherry and sister Chera decided to ride their snowmachines to support Lopeman, but Sherry Heath said many of her friends and family either have cancer now, are cancer survivors or have died from it.

"(I know) one guy whose wife is dying now," Sherry Heath said. With seven people on their team, the sumo wrestlers raised more than $1,200, not counting the $100 entry fee. Sherry said she knew people who benefited from the funds raised at last year's WOW ride, particularly those with no health insurance. "Prior money helped friends who had to go to Anchorage," she said.

Last year's WOW ride raised more than $46,000 and paid for 36 grants. This year, the WOW ride's proceeds exceeded Lopeman's goal of $50,000. On Tuesday, she said the ride raised more than $53,278.80, with more money trickling in.

"That will help at least 53 people," she said.

Generally each grant is worth $1,000. But because there is more money this year, Lopeman said the WOW ride foundation board will have to examine how the grants have been used for since the ride got its start four years ago. The staff at the hospital's Oncology and Infusion Department writes the grants and decides what they're used for; the WOW foundation simply advises them on their decision.

WOW grant money can be used for many different things, from transportation and housing if a patient has to go to Anchorage or Seattle for treatment to cab vouchers to groceries. With two younger sisters having to stay in school and her mom needing to be in Seattle, Ericka's grant money went partly toward providing care for her siblings, as well as travel expenses for them to see their sister.

"We just identify a need, which was there," Lopeman said. "Having to fly back and forth for the sisters to be able to go down and see her, and help maintain every day family life."

Sue Bible's reaction when doctors diagnosed her with breast cancer was similar to Ericka's, but, she says, cancer isn't picky.

"I didn't feel like I had cancer," she said. "I thought I was so healthy, I ate every thing right. Why me?"

Since Bible's mastectomy 10 years ago, she says she's cancer free, but there's a 50 percent chance it could return. She says she deals with this chance by being careful and having a lot of mammograms done.

After Bible's disbelief passed and reality sunk in that yes, she had cancer, she said one of the things she did was go to several different doctors for second and third opinions. Now that she's cancer free, she says she's more vigilant, but Bible recognizes that life goes on and you can't spend time worrying about it.

"Your mind has a lot to do with yourself," she said. "At the same time I appreciate things a little more than I did before. Nothing is certain, don't take things for granted."

Bible hung out with Margaret Goodman and several other members of the quilt group The Piecemakers. She said The Piecemakers make approximately 100 service quilts a year for the Women's Resource Center. And because the ladies in the group like to snowmachine, particularly if it's for a good cause, they decided to participate in the WOW ride.

"It's a great way to see the outdoors and get off the highway," Bible said.

Approximately 104 riders took to the trails, freshly groomed courtesy of the Caribou Hills Cabin Hoppers. Precipitation dissipated as the ladies zoomed by blackened spruce snags, scars left behind by the Caribou Hills wildfire eight months earlier. Occasionally the women would pass other snowmachiners taking advantage of the extra inch of snow that fell that day, but as they plunged down slopes rivaling the drop at Disneyland's Splash Mountain, it was clear the ladies owned the hills.

Lopeman said the ride spanned 46 miles. And after leaving Straight In Lodge, even though the trails were marked, the hills could have swallowed a novice snowmachiner if the cabana boys didn't go along.

"Miss Congeniality" inspired Konia Garcia's idea of a theme for her group. Before the ride kicked off, Konia's mom Kathi Garcia, Marta Czarnezki, Keri Green, Cassie Frank, Jody King, Nanci Crisp, Stacy Warton and Diane Hinshaw pulled neon-green swim suits over their gear and tiaras sparkled on their helmets. Each lady wore a sash representing such Caribou Hills landmarks as the Tinkle Tree and Deep Creek.

"I was watching "Miss Congeniality" and I thought it would be funny to make fun of it and wear swimsuits in cold weather," said Kioni, also known as Miss Pavilion.

When the Miss Caribou Hills tramped at the end of the ride, the ladies wore evening gowns over their bunny boots and Sorels.

"We all like to feel beautiful," they said.

Saturday's ride was the third ride the Miss Caribou Hills ladies participated in. Last year, they said they went as "trail tramps," the year before they were the Pirates of the Caribou Hills. Most of the women in the group said they have cabins in the Caribou Hills and some work at the hospital, but one main reason they decided to participate one main reason why many snowmachiners decided to participate is that the money they raise stays on the Kenai Peninsula. In some cases, the riders know the folks who benefit from it.

Chickens sat on the heads of the Ninilchik Chickadees. At approximately $3,800, Chris Calabrese placed second on Lopeman's list of top 10 individual earners, but she said that amount was a team effort. As a whole, the Chickadees raised $4,700, not counting the $100 entry fee.

"It will be a team effort from now on," Calabrese said. "It's more fun that way. The main thing is that it stays here on the peninsula."

In addition to the hundred or so women who rode, Lopeman said at least 50 additional people showed up to participate in the event's silent auction and split the pot drawing. Even though she's not done absorbing this year's ride, Lopeman said next year's ride will take place the first Saturday in March and will be bigger and better than this one.

"I'm very happy," she said. "I'm absolutely jazzed and excited and ready for next year,"

Lopeman said additional donations can be mailed to Central Peninsula Hospital at 250 Hospital Place in Soldotna.

Jessica Cejnar can be reached at jessica.cejnar@peninsulaclarion.com.



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