An annual Sudbury motorcycle rally that raises money for the Sick Kids Foundation will take on new significance for a local family this year.
The fundraiser, called Ryleigh’s Ride, has been dedicated to its founder, Johnny Valcourt, who lost his life in a motorcycle accident on May 2.
Valcourt launched Ryleigh’s Ride in 2019 to raise money for the hospital that saved his daughter’s life when she was born.
This year, his widow Kerri Chevrier said the ride must go on – and she hopes to make a big donation to the Sick Kids Foundation in Valcourt’s name.
“The motorcycle rally is now called Ryleigh’s Ride in Memory of Johnny because this was his idea. I remember vividly having the conversation with him when Ryleigh was in the NICU (neonatal intensive care unit),” said Chevrier.
“We came up with the idea of a motorcycle rally, and this will be our third year. This ride needs to continue and it’s not something I am planning on stopping anytime soon.”
Chevrier and Valcourt’s daughter Ryleigh was born in Sudbury in 2018.
“She was transferred to Sick Kids Hospital within two days of her birth. She spent the first three months of her life there, and she had two life-saving surgeries on her head,” she said.
“Ryleigh was born prematurely at 29 weeks after I developed a condition called HELLP syndrome while I was pregnant. It was fairly life-threatening, and so they had to do an emergency C-section. When Ryleigh was born, she weighed two pounds, two ounces.”
As a result of the emergency birth, Ryleigh developed a blood clot in her brain.
“She has hydrocephalous, and she also has mild cerebral palsy on the left side,” said Chevrier. “Johnny was by my side throughout our stay at Sick Kids. He would sneak over to the hospital at 6 a.m. to go and snuggle Ryleigh.”
The whole experience, Chevrier added, was traumatic for them but it brought them even closer together as a family.
Throughout the ordeal, she added, the hospital was amazing.
“Not only did Sick Kids save our daughter’s life, but we know that they are leaders in the medical field for children. They do amazing things there all the time,” she said.
“They are currently trying to build a new hospital because some parts of their hospital are quite outdated. Johnny just felt like it was something we needed to do.”
Without Sick Kids, Chevrier said, Ryleigh might not be here today.
“Now she’s an amazing, happy, strong little three-year-old who literally has nothing stopping her,” she said.
“I hope to be able to make a very large donation to Sick Kids Hospital in honour of Johnny this year. He always wanted this ride to get bigger and bigger and I need to keep it going not only to honour him, but also to recognize how important Sick Kids is to our family.”
Chevrier said Valcourt was an amazing man and father.
“Ryleigh has a little sister, Olivia, who is two years old. His girls were his world,” she said.
“He would do anything for his family. He was a plumber here in Sudbury, and he was such a social guy. He got along with everybody – and he was literally the world’s best hugger.”
The bike community in Sudbury, she said, has been very supportive of Ryleigh’s Ride in honour of Valcourt.
“He passed away doing what he loved. He loved being on his bike,” said Chevrier.
“The bike community has become another family for us. The bike community in Sudbury is very close, and because he was part of the Warriors Motorcycle Club, it’s just amazing to see how supportive they are. It’s overwhelming.”
Ryleigh’s Ride in Memory of Jonny will take place on Saturday, Sept. 18. Registration will begin at 8:30 a.m. at A&W on Long Lake Road.
“We have been very fortunate – A&W has sponsored breakfast for all of our ride,” said Chevrier.
The motorcycle rally will leave A&W at around 10 a.m. led by two community volunteers. Bikers will ride to Little Current for a lunch sponsored by Orr’s Valu-Mart. There will be a coffee break in Espanola on the way.
“Then riders will come back to Sudbury where we will have dinner and a silent auction followed by some entertainment,” said Chevrier.
“We will also talk about our story and how other Northern Ontario families are supported by Sick Kids every year.”
The dinner will take place at the Wahnapitae Community Centre located at 161 Glenbower Cr. Anyone is welcome to attend.
“The first year we organized this fundraiser, we had about 25 bikes and it was pouring rain. It was a small turnout, and we were able to donate a little bit of money – but not as much as we wanted,” said Chevrier.
“Since then, we’ve continued to grow. Last year, we had closer to 50 bikes, and we were able to donate $7,500. This year will be even bigger because my husband passed away.”
Chevrier’s goal is to raise $10,000 for the Sick Kids Foundation.
Tickets for the event cost $40 per rider and $20 per passenger. The ticket price includes breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
Dinner only tickets cost $20 per adult and $10 for children aged 12 and under. Doors open at 4:30 p.m. and the dinner starts at 5:15 p.m.
Although registration is available on the day of the event, people are encouraged to register in advance due to COVID-19.
Social distancing measures will be in place.
To register for the event or make a donation to the cause, visit fundraise.sickkidsfoundation.com/ryleighsride.
The Local Journalism Initiative is made possible through funding from the federal government.
Colleen Romaniuk, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Sudbury Star