Published January 16, 2010, 08:12 PM

Snowmobilers converge for a cause

The national nonprofit group uses the sport of snowmobiling to raise money for breast cancer patients, and Lee and several friends were planning to ride the entire route.

By: Brad Dokken, Grand Forks Herald

GRAFTON, N.D. — The pink ribbon tattooed on the back of Jackie Lee’s head summed up the sentiment of everyone gathered Saturday morning at the Fair Oaks Golf Club.

“Cancer sucks,” the tattoo read in bold black letters, and Lee knows that as well as anyone.

Lee, 56, of Grafton, was diagnosed with breast cancer in July. She’s gone through chemotherapy and is scheduled for surgery Tuesday.

But that didn’t stop her from getting out and having some fun Saturday.

Lee was among about 75 snowmobile enthusiasts who hit the trails Saturday morning for the first-ever North Dakota “Snow Run” of the Pink Ribbon Riders. The national nonprofit group uses the sport of snowmobiling to raise money for breast cancer patients, and Lee and several friends were planning to ride the entire route.

“It’s 88 miles, and I’m going to make it the whole way,” said Lee, who was riding her 1993 Arctic Cat Cougar.

“I’m a Cougar girl,” she added with a smile.

Grassroots effort

Jody McKay of Battle Creek, Mich., a co-founder and director of the Pink Ribbon Riders, said the group started about six years ago while she was living in New York. An avid snowmobiler, McKay also worked in the snowmobile industry and decided to organize a ride to raise money in memory of a friend who’d recently died from breast cancer.

McKay said her mother also had been diagnosed with the disease about that same time.

The Pink Ribbon Riders evolved from that first ride in 2005 and now is a registered nonprofit organization with fundraising events in Michigan, Minnesota, New York, Wisconsin, Wyoming and this year, North Dakota.

Snowmobile North Dakota and the city of Grafton helped sponsor Saturday’s ride.

“We are very, very excited for all the support — not only from the city but statewide,” McKay said. “As a national grassroots group, we are honored to be so welcome in the state of North Dakota.”

As part of the fundraiser, riders pay a $100 fee and are encouraged to raise at least $500. Last year, McKay said, the Pink Ribbon Riders raised about $240,000 to help breast cancer patients.

“It’s the camaraderie of people getting together,” she said. “As Pink Ribbon Riders, we like to believe we become a family together. The financial assistance is available to anyone who needs it.”

Help hits home

A self-employed painter, Lee is among 15 North Dakota women who already have or soon will benefit from the Pink Ribbon Riders’ fundraising efforts. As with other recipients, Lee received a $500 pink VISA card she was able to use for various expenses, so it seemed fitting to go on Saturday’s snowmobile ride, as well.

She even postponed her surgery a week for the occasion.

“I thought it would be fun to do, since I already had the ‘dreaded disease,’” Lee said. “We all like to ride — it’s a fun event.”

No doubt, she said, the money helps.

“It’s a costly disease,” Lee said, adding she hasn’t worked since July. “Getting better has to be your first priority.”

Another woman to benefit is Kim Renslow of Grand Forks. Renslow’s husband, Steve, is active in the Red River Snowmobile Club and helped plan the Pink Ribbon Riders’ North Dakota Snow Run even before Kim learned in November during a routine mammogram that she had breast cancer.

Renslow, 52, had surgery Jan. 5 and said she’s doing well, thanks to early detection. She’s already returned to her job as a pharmacy technician at Thrifty White Drug in Grand Forks.

Without the mammogram, Renslow said, she never would have known about the cancer.

“I was so darn lucky because I did that,” she said.

Humor helps

Renslow didn’t ride Saturday, but she was on hand with fellow cancer survivor Carol Papenfuss of Grafton and another friend to take part in the festivities. Renslow said she enjoyed seeing men embrace the fundraiser, too. Many of the riders Saturday adorned their sleds in pink and some of the men even hammed it up by donning pink bras during a Friday night welcome party.

The humor continued Saturday morning, when McKay gathered all of the riders for a group photo before they hit the trail.

“Everybody say … one, two, three — BOOBS!” McKay shouted, instructing the riders what to say instead of the traditional “cheese.”

“BOOBS!” everyone hollered back in reply.

As she prepared to join her friends on a beautiful day in January, Lee said she’s upbeat about her surgery and the road ahead, a journey she knows will be a lot longer than an 88-mile snowmobile excursion.

“It’s a scary ride — you just don’t know the outcome,” Lee said. “Attitude is a big part of the deal … You’ve got to think about the worst but expect the best.”

Dokken reports on outdoors. Reach him at (701) 780-1148; (800) 477-6572, ext. 148; or send e-mail to