Wednesday, July 6, 2011

The Super Grandpa: cycling across Canada in less than 14 days

A Winnipegger hailing from East Kildonan is trying to break a world record. Cycling across Canada in 13 days and 9 hours.

Arvid Loewen has been grinding it out on the bike as an ultramarathonist for over 15 years. He boasts a resume that boarders on the insane. And he does it all for charity, good causes, for orphanages in third world countries, and for fun. If you're spending this much time in the saddle, there must be something you're enjoying about it.

Arvid Loewen is currently being sponsored by the fine folks from Bikes and Beyond in Elmwood, where he has taken his business for years. One of Arvid's more humourus endeavors involved racing the employees of B&B as they took turns for 24 hours...Arvid vs the store.

Bikes and Beyond has also pledged towards Arvid's cause. If the record is broken, B&B will buy the bike back and mount the world record-breaking machine in the store.

This time it's not just for a good cause, its for the record books too. The current record stands at 13 days, 9 hours. As I sit on the steps of the Legislature typing my draft of this piece, he will roll into Winnipeg about 18h ahead of the calculated average (though this is a bit deceptive...) He's cranking over 500km a day down the Trans Canada Highway.

The charity we're talking about here is Mully Children's Family. Arvid has been cycling in support of MCF for 5 years now, founding the non profit Spoke Impact. In 2005, Arvid cycled across Canada on a tandem bike with an orphanage child, one of three, from MCF with him.

I chatted with Arvid about the orphanage and his humanitarian work using his cycling craziness as a fundraising platform.

For Arvid, the Guinness Record is a secondary goal and a tool to promote his fundraising drive, which he describes as "aggressive." At $400 000 so far, he's putting they money where his mouth, and heart, are. Since 2005, over $1.5 million dollars have been raised for MCF by Arvid, Spoke Impact, and Grandpas Can.

Arvid actually quit his job a few years ago to concentrate full time on Spoke Impact and fundraising for NGOs like MCF. He has visited MCF in Kenya twice now, and remarked on the incredible change between his first and second visits. They now harbour 2000 orphans, they have a giant greenhouse, fish farms, and water dams. More impressively, 7000 kids have "graduated" from the shelter and are equipped with the tools and knowledge to be independent people.

If you can even imagine doing 500km a day on a bike, a cycling ultramarathonist has big mental challenges. For inspiration, Arvid carries a few pictures with him. Of Lilian, a girl from the orphanage, 8 years old weighing 16 pounds, a hauntingly skeletal figure staring hopelessly at nothing while sitting on the ground. On the flip side of Arivd's little photo carrier is Lilian again, healthy, with bright eyes and a beaming smile.

It would be hard not to be inspired by that, knowing that your efforts and work have made such an incredible difference in an impoverished country.

Though the project is still under Spoke Impact, the name for this venture is "Grandpas Can." He says this to show that grandpas can be leaders and can help make the world better. Arvid's grandchildren will sure have something to be proud of. They're even on his custom-made cycling shirts, which look pretty sharp with the Spoke Impact logo, the website name, and on the back, a group photo of Mully Children's Family.

The good work done by MCF doesn't stop at kids, but it ventures into being stewards of the environment as well. Director Charles Mully's has been planting trees, a lot of trees, to help recover forests that have been destroyed by deforestation or logging. Remember that in Canada, we take these sorts of things for granted. Not everywhere in the world requires logging companies to re-plant forests. There are similar stories of such tree planters throughout the world.

You can follow Arvid Loewen's journey at If you want to donate and help the fundraising drive, follow the appropriate links on his site.

His crew is on the Twitter, who have been essentially live-tweeting the journey with a bit of humor, too.

* * * *

A brief career retrospective of some of Arvid Loewen's ultra marathon cycling events. He had a hard time at first as anyone does with long-distance events, but with perseverance and experience, he's become a veteran pro.

* * * *

1995: Furnace Creek 508. A 508 mile trek through Death Valley. Arvid would not finish.

1995: Paris-Brest-Paris 1200. Dropped out.

1998: 24 hour race in Alaska. Dropped out after 480km.

1999: Paris-Brest-Paris 1200. Finished. The event now draws over 3000 riders.

2000: Furnace Creek 509 finished.

2001: Iowa Firecracker 500. Finished, which qualified Arvid for the Race Across America.

2005: Across Canada on a tandem bicycle, carrying a Keynan orphan from MCF.

2008: Race Across America. Arvid would finish 1st in his age category, in 11 days, 3 hours and 19 minutes.

2009: Tour for Life. Arvid began on the same day as the Tour de France, and his goal was to ride triple the distance. For 23 days he rode around Birds Hill Park, Highway 59, North Henderson Highway and the Perimeter. He compiled nearly 8000km and came just short of his goal of tripling the Tour de France.

Has completed the Boston-Montreal-Boston 1200km twice.

Show your support for Arvid, his cause, and MCF, by following his journey via his website, on Twitter, or by making a donation.


Just call me Psmith - the P is silent said...

Great article on Arvid! He IS insane on a bike, but off the bike he's pretty cool, too, along with the rest of his family. Did he mention that he's having hip surgery in a couple of months? :-)
Thanks for spreading the word about grandpascan and Mully Children's Family. So inspiring! I'm going to post your blog article on my FB page, if that's OK.
Eleanor Ratzlaff

Graham said...

Go right ahead Eleanor. Thanks for reading and by all means, spread the word!