Fundraiser comes through for spinal cord research 

Whistler’s John Ryan is used to uphill battles.

Back in 1999 he hand-pedalled a three-wheeled bike 8,688 kilometres across Canada, raising more than a million dollars for spinal cord research and overcoming the elements, the rugged landscape and building physical pain.

The goal was to raise enough money to fund a chair for spinal cord research at the University of British Columbia, advancing the science that could one day make many spinal cord injuries a thing of the past.

The fundraising has continued over the years, to the point that Ryan is just over half a million dollars away from his goal of raising $6 million to establish the John and Penny Ryan B.C. Leadership Chair in Spinal Cord Research. Aided by a partnership with the Rick Hansen Man In Motion Foundation, the chair supports the work of the director of the International Collaboration on Repair Discoveries, or ICORD.

On May 1, Ryan and his wife Penny hosted an inaugural gala fundraiser, "Reserved". They did not advertise the event, but rather invited a group of 130 friends and co-workers for a dinner, dancing, silent auction and live auction at the Fairmont Chateau Whistler’s Frontenac Ballroom. The guest list included Rick Hansen, Dr. John Steeves (the director of ICORD), Mayor Hugh O’Reilly, Joe and Joanne Houssain of Intrawest, Trevor Linden of the Vancouver Canucks with his wife Cristina, Canucks alumnus Kirk McLean, and Shane Bourbonnais of Clear Channel Promotions.

The event raised more than $200,000, with $30,000 going towards Culinary Team Canada to help pay their expenses for the World Culinary Olympics in Germany in October. That left over $170,000 for spinal cord research.

Ryan didn’t know how much to expect, but it wasn’t that.

"It was really all beyond my wildest expectations," said Ryan. "It was just a magical night, there aren’t too many nights in Canada where you can raise $170,000 plus."

Of the money, $30,000 was raised from the ticket sales and $70,000 was raised through the auction, draws and other games at the event. Another $30,000 was raised through donations of people unable to attend, and the John Ryan Regeneration Tour Society matched the funds raised through the auctions to bring to the total to more than $200,000.

Ryan says it’s rewarding to get a little closer to the goal of funding a chair for spinal cord research.

"It was a little daunting in the beginning to know how much we needed to raise, but now it feels really good, and the end is in sight," said Ryan.

Ryan hopes to make the gala dinner and auction an annual event, keeping the numbers low and retaining the services of Culinary Team Canada for the event.

In addition to running a good event, Ryan says part of the fundraiser’s success comes from the fact that people are more aware of spinal cord research than they were in the past, and the fact that progress is being made on what was once thought to be an incurable condition.

"It really is an exciting time for spinal cord research, there have been some exciting breakthroughs in recent years. If there are five pieces to the puzzle they’ve probably got three and a half of them sorted out, so we’re getting close," said Ryan.

Aside from the generosity of the people who attended, Ryan credits the other part of the gala’s success to the hard work of the volunteer committee: Heather Clifford, Rosemary Bayliffe, Tina Tamburro, Karen Garrett, Susie Mortensen, Chrissy Robinson, Carolyn Hill and Penny Ryan.

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