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Inaugural Cycle for Sight rolls out Sunday in St. John's

Husband and wife Amy Kavanagh-Penney and Lawrence Penney at Cycle for Sight in Toronto.
Husband and wife Amy Kavanagh-Penney and Lawrence Penney at Cycle for Sight in Toronto.

By Sadie-Rae Werner Special to The Telegram Amy Kavanagh-Penney and Lawrence Penney, co-chairs of the St. John’s Cycle for Sight, have gone to Toronto the past five years to ride in Cycle for Sight after learning about it at a Vision Quest event in St. John’s in 2012, shortly after Penney was diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa, a hereditary form of degenerative tunnel vision. 

The Foundation for Fighting Blindness will host its inaugural Cycle for Sight event in St. John’s on Sunday. The foundation has hosted Cycle for Sight events across Canada since 2008, beginning in Toronto and spreading west.

“It’s a ride, not a race,” Kavanagh-Penney stressed about Cycle for Sight.

The ride is meant to appeal to cyclists of all levels, with the option to ride 25 km, 50 km or 75 km. The path goes from the St. John’s Lions Club through the city to Quidi Vidi, Logy Bay-Middle Cove-Outer Cove and all the way to Pouch Cove for those riding the entire 75 km. There is also a children’s course that is 1-3 km long.

“The organizers from Toronto were so thrilled that there were so many beautiful viewpoints,” Kavanagh-Penney says about the route they have planned for Sunday.

The organizers, with the help of volunteers from Lions Clubs in the area, have worked to make the ride accessible to low-vision and non-sighted cyclists wishing to participate. Visually impaired cyclists are encouraged to bring tandem bikes if they have them.

Steve Watson of Central Dairies has lent his three tandem bikes for the weekend, one of which will be used by a brother and sister team — the sister will pilot for her brother, who is blind — riding the 50 km route. The other two bikes will be available for visually impaired participants to ride, with volunteer pilots, on the 25 km route.

“Anybody who rides any type of bicycle is more than welcome,” says Kavanagh-Penney.

This weekend’s event is raising money for the Foundation for Fighting Blindness, which has committed nearly $1 million to research over the past decade, including a 40 per cent increase in projects happening specifically in Atlantic Canada.

Among the many projects being funded is research by Dr. Robert Gendron and Dr. Helene Paradis at Memorial University into age-related macular degeneration, one of the leading causes of vision loss in adults over 50 in Canada.

Fundraising aside, Kavanagh-Penney says one of the main goals of the event is to encourage physical activity among the visually impaired.

“It’s so uplifting to work with these organizations,” Kavanagh-Penney says about her experience working with the Foundation for Fighting Blindness, the Canada Council of the Blind and the Newfoundland and Labrador Visually Impaired Sport and Recreation Association, all of whom are partners with Sunday’s ride. “You were talking to people who were being positively impacted by the money you were raising going for a bike ride.”

Researchers Dr. Jane Green and Dr. Chad Andrews will be available on Sunday for anyone wishing to discuss the research being conducted on fighting blindness.

The ride starts at 8 a.m. at the St. John’s Lions Club, with the children’s ride starting later in the day. Adult entrants must raise a minimum of $75 to participate, in addition to their $25 registration fee. Children must raise a minimum of $25 with their $10 registration fee.

Anyone not wishing to ride can come to the barbecue at the end — food will be provided by Jungle Jim’s and beer will be provided by Molson-Coors — for a $10 fee and hear live music by local band YYT. Registration will also be open for next year’s ride at a discounted price.

telegram@thetelegram.com

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