Extraordinary volunteer earns Cash, Sweat & Tears Award after raising more than $700,000 for Parkinson’s disease research

Dave Newall, left, Peter Istvan, centre, and Phil Jones at the 2016 Pedaling for Parkinson’s event.
Dave Newall, left, Peter Istvan, centre, and Phil Jones at the 2016 Pedaling for Parkinson’s event.

Peter Istvan, co-founder and organizer of Pedaling for Parkinson’s – an annual bike ride that has raised more than $700,000 for Parkinson Canada – is the recipient of the 2016 Cash, Sweat & Tears Award. The award is granted by Peer-to-Peer Fundraising Canada to honour an extraordinary volunteer who has taken on physical challenges or overcome tremendous obstacles to raise money for charity.

Asked how he feels about receiving the award, Peter responded: “Someone had to stand up there and receive the award, but it’s really a recognition of the whole event and everyone involved, the riders obviously, but also the volunteers, the sponsors, the donors,  the researchers, and of course the great people at Parkinson Canada. They are all contributing.”

“We do a lot of little things, so everyone is engaged and they are the recipients of this recognition. It’s not me personally receiving the award, together we have created an authentic, grassroots experience that is helping people and families affected by Parkinson’s.”

Istvan and his friend David Newall started the ride in rural Parry Sound, Ontario, six years ago with a modest goal of using their love of cycling to raise money to fight Parkinson’s disease. During the first event, 18 riders came together and raised $18,000. In July 2016, 250 people took part in the three-day ride and raised more than $200,000.

“Peter’s commitment and vision are inspiring, and they demonstrate the amazing power that passionate people can use to help nonprofits raise money and achieve their missions,” said David Hessekiel, President of Peer-to-Peer Fundraising Canada. “He has helped create an event that brings together his small town each summer to make a difference, and, in doing so, he is helping to transform the lives of people with Parkinson’s disease.”

Pedaling for Parkinson’s is part of a growing trend in fundraising, where ‘do-it-yourself’ campaigns are organized by individuals, rather than by not-for-profit organizations. Parkinson Canada provides support for the event, and Istvan, a volunteer, does all of the heavy lifting, including managing logistics, recruiting riders and volunteers, soliciting sponsors and collecting donations.

“The whole team behind Pedaling for Parkinson’s is a joy to work with,” says Jon Collins, Associate Director of Events and Partnerships for Parkinson Canada. “With dauntless energy, strength of spirit and compassion, Peter Istvan has built a community around a once-a-year bike ride in Parry Sound.”

Pedaling for Parkinson’s has become a destination event for many avid cyclists in Ontario, largely because of its homespun feel. Istvan’s mother bakes cookies and gives hugs to weary riders. Riders receive handmade mugs from a local potter. A local butcher makes sausages for the post-ride barbecue.

“We’re not looking to become a humongous event,” Istvan says. “While we continue to grow, we want to remain as grassroots, family, and personable as we can.”

Istvan says he also wants to make sure the event always maintains its connection to the cause it supports. Two Parkinson’s researchers – Dr. Abid Oueslati and Dr. Joel Watts – each received a $90,000 Pedaling for Parkinson’s New Investigator Award for 2016-2018, through the Parkinson Canada Research Program.  Since 2011, seven Parkinson Canada Research Program awards have been supported by proceeds from the event.

“We work hard to connect the riders to the research and the research community to the riders,” he says. “That’s an important connection to us. We want to make it clear to the riders where the money is going and why what they are doing is important.”

Several Parkinson’s researchers have participated in the Parry Sound event over the years, as well as Parkinson Canada staff.  And each year, one of the Pedaling for Parkinson’s “named” researchers gives a presentation at a Parkinson’s education event in Parry Sound.

In addition to Pedaling for Parkinson’s, people with Parkinson’s benefit from the efforts of community-organized events held all year round and across the country. Events range from pot luck suppers to hockey tournaments and from summer pool parties to motorcycling tours and golf tournaments. If you have an idea for a community fundraising event in support of Parkinson Canada, check out our webpage or email connect@parkinson.ca.

If you do start up your own event to support people living with Parkinson’s, you may want to follow Istvan’s advice: “Keep the reason you are doing it in front of you, and thank every person who touches your event.”