Biking fundraiser zooms in on isolated seniors
By Chonglu Huang
Ride to Connect started out in June as a grassroots fundraiser where seven uOttawa medical school friends decided to collectively bike the distance across Canada to raise money to help seniors combat social isolation during COVID-19.
Just two months later, the Ride to Connect biking community on Strava has grown to over 245 participants from across Canada, including cyclists from the Canadian National Team. The fundraiser has gained the public endorsement of politicians and celebrities including Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson, Vaughan Mayor Maurizio Bevilacqua, writer Margaret Atwood, and actor Sandra Oh.
Collectively, members have so far cycled 69,220 km and raised over $43,000.
“Our cycling members, supporters and fundraising partners are relentless,” said co-founder Nathan Chiarlitti (MD 2022). “The generosity of our donors coupled with the professional cyclists who have joined our cause have been incredible. Some cyclists are contributing over 200 km a day and up to 1,000 km a week.”
With the funds raised, Ride to Connect is working with HelpAge Canada to purchase electronic tablets for isolated seniors in long-term care homes and will also provide free training and tech support to help enhance technology literacy among the elderly.
Supporters can join the Strava cycling group, sponsor the campaign through corporate donations or contribute via individual giving.
“It started with us thinking about our own grandparents when the pandemic lockdown first began in March,” said co-founder Simon Pupulin (MD 2022). “Many of us are studying medicine here away from our families; technology has been the only way to stay connected regularly.”
“It hit home particularly hard for me,” said Chiarlitti, who is extremely close to his family, but had been away from home regularly since he was 16 as a junior league hockey player. “Calling, texting and FaceTiming were absolutely essential for staying in touch with my parents, siblings and grandparents. But not everyone has that luxury or can afford the technology.”
Recognizing that, even with tablets in hand, some seniors may not have someone to connect with virtually, Ride to Connect is looking to collaborate with another uOttawa medical student initiative Student-Senior Isolation Prevention Partnership (SSIPP).
SSIPP pairs student volunteers with isolated seniors looking to connect with another person virtually through the use of technology. Together with Ride to Connect, these grassroots organizations and their non-profit partners are looking to combat the devastating ramifications of social isolation during COVID-19.
“There’s also an advocacy component to this initiative that aims to raise awareness about the gaps in quality of care for seniors within our current health care system,” said Pupulin.
“We see how some long-term care homes are struggling and we want to create lasting change. We hope to petition politicians, policymakers and health care professionals to address the vulnerabilities within the current system for elder care.”