Some 65 riders from across Canada embarked from Red Deer on a 500-km bicycle journey through central and southern Alberta on Thursday morning. With a cold rain falling

Some 65 riders from across Canada embarked from Red Deer on a 500-km bicycle journey through central and southern Alberta on Thursday morning. With a cold rain falling

Cyclists set off on charity ride for kids

Nearly 60 cyclists mounted up and headed out into the rain for charity on Thursday in Red Deer.

Nearly 60 cyclists mounted up and headed out into the rain for charity on Thursday in Red Deer.

Led by three-time Olympian and world record holder speedskater Brittany Schussler, the seventh annual Canadian Tire Jumpstart Charities Pedal for Kids left for Olds shortly after 9 a.m. It was the first leg of a five-day 500-km cycling tour that will go through Cochrane, Canmore and Banff before finishing in Calgary.

Canadian Tire Jumpstart Charities is a national effort dedicated to providing children from low-income families with an opportunity to play organized sports, dance or other organized physical activities.

There are 300 chapters across Canada and more than 700 youngsters have been helped and $22,000 disbursed over the years through the Red Deer group.

This year, they are hoping to raise $150,000 on the ride sponsored by Sport Chek, said Schussler, who is connected to FGL Ltd., which is owned along with Sport Chek by Canadian Tire.

Schussler, 31, who grew up speedskating and playing soccer among many sports, believes sports can play an important role in young people’s lives.

“Honestly, I feel like sport set me up for life,” said the athlete, who retired from competitive speedskating in 2014 and now works for FGL Ltd. “It builds confidence and you learn from coaches, and it keeps you out of trouble, it gives you something to do.

“For me, I felt like sport gave me a place to belong. It gave me a peer group I fit in with.”

However, one in three Canadian children can’t afford to play organized sports and that’s what Jumpstart is trying to change.

“There are just a huge number of kids out there who need help from an organization like Jumpstart and I’m so lucky to be able to be a part of that.”

Schussler, along with Christine Nesbitt and Kristina Groves, set a team pursuit world speedskating record in Calgary in 2009 that still stands. The women’s average speed was 47.6 km/h.