By Kevin J. Sabo
For the Advance
STARS (Shock Trauma Air Rescue Society) has been saving lives in Alberta since 1985.
In the ensuing 34 years, the pilots and medics of STARS have flown over 40,000 missions, averaging five a day in Alberta alone.
These missions, which can run in-between $5,000 to $10,000 each in the Paintearth County region, are flown at no charge to the user.
Instead, the service is funded primarily through fund-raising efforts, such as the Eleventh Annual Battle River Ride for STARS which took place on July 13th, raising over $35,000 for the organization.
“We crushed our records this year,” said Henry Thomas, the ride’s director.
The ride’s goal for the last four years has been to raise over $30,000 and get 130 riders to participate in the event.
The July 13th ride exceeded both funds raised and riders, with 164 riders signing up, raising money via pledges, and then participating in the 14-mile ride northeast of Castor.
“We set a goal, and we keep trying to reach it until we meet it, then we set another goal,” said Thomas.
“Next year we’re hoping to hit $40,000.”
The Battle River Ride for STARS was started 11 years ago by Thomas’s mother and brother, in a desire to help the service which Thomas describes as an “unwanted necessity.
“It’s there if you need it, and it doesn’t cost anybody anything,” said Thomas.
“I’m 12 miles from home. You don’t know what can happen in between here and there.”
On average, STARS flies six missions into the Paintearth County region per year at an estimated cost of around $45,000. A full 80 per cent of STARS funding comes from fundraisers and donations, such as the Battle River Ride, with the remaining 20 per cent covered by Alberta Health Services.
Thomas credits his team of volunteers for the success of the ride.
“We had a lot of green help this year, and I probably heard my name a million times,” laughed Thomas.
“They did a bang-up job.”
Another reason for the success, according to Thomas, are the extra services that the ride provides to attendees.
The ride has a dedicated truck and trailer that is capable of pulling a lame horse or injured rider off the trail, there is free camping onsite for anyone wishing to take advantage of it, and there is a steak supper provided to the riders in the evening after the ride.
In addition, new for 2019, Western Sky Saddlery and the Daysland Legion worked together to provide a custom saddle to the ride as a draw-prize, which was won by Arjan Van Hienen of Castor.
Around 95 per cent of funds raised will go to STARS, with a small amount held back by the ride as an operations budget to get them going for the 2020 ride, which has been set for July 11th.
There is also a STARS ride near Rumsey in late summer every year.
“If you can’t make our ride, go to Rumsey’s, it’s all for STARS,” said Thomas.
“You never know when you’re going to need it”