I am now in my fifth year as a sighted volunteer with TRAILBLAZERS. I joined at a difficult point in my personal life—feeling burned out at work, not physically active, frustrated that I wasn’t contributing to any greater good.
As a long-time recreational bike rider, it seemed almost too good to be true when I first heard that there might be a way I could do my favourite hobby and help others at the same time. It sounded like no imposition on me as a volunteer at all, and this turned out to be largely true: the club owns a fleet of bicycles which are placed around the city, they take care of training everyone, and then they match us with vision-impaired riders for trips in private, in small groups, and sometimes open to the whole club. Even before joining up, I knew this club was for me.
It’s what I learned after joining, though, that has been most life-altering. My preconception (and, I realize, still the preconception of friends and acquaintances who hear from me about TRAILBLAZERS) was that I would be "giving" and that the people "receiving" would be somehow very needy—low functioning, shut in, dependent. This was due to my own ignorance about life with blindness, of course, and to my lack of exposure to disability communities.
It has been the greatest surprise to see how wrong I was. First, the club is run by people who are blind/low-vision. Under its constitution, key leadership positions must be held by blind members. (I have recently joined the executive as well, but as club secretary.)
My cycling partners have been, by and large, active and independent people—highly competent, socially skilled, funny, thoughtful, well-informed, excellent self-advocates. I imagine they would credit their personal success to organizations like TRAILBLAZERS. For my part, I’m enriched by having enlarged my circle of friendships.
Imagine the conversations one can have seated barely a meter apart on the same bicycle for a few hours. Many of those friendships now extend into the off-season and a few are quite close.
TRAILBLAZERS is a brilliant concept and a huge undertaking. Thanks to some very dedicated people, the club works—now in its 31st season. While I can’t speak for its hundreds of other members and volunteers over the years, I know that for me the club has been a source of community, physical exercise, friendship, and personal inspiration.
I started my volunteer journey with the TRAILBLAZERS tandem cycling club over ten years ago by simple chance. While passing through a mall I came across their info booth. As an avid cyclist I was intrigued by the concept of providing cycling opportunities to even more people.
The time with the club has taught me many valuable lessons. I have learned the importance of good communication and teamwork. These two components are absolutely necessary for a pleasurable tandem ride and even life in general.
The stokers have also shattered my preconceived notions regarding the abilities of both blind and visually impaired individuals.
In terms of Trailblazer stories there are so many to choose from. Overnight trips, amazing BBQ times with friends, camping adventures, and more. However, I’ll never forget one of my first rides with Lucy M. We experienced a mechanical failure whilst down in the Don River trail system. We didn’t have the means to fix the bike there so it meant a long walk back. Others might have been frustrated and upset by the whole ordeal. Not Lucy though, she took it all in stride and we had a great conversation as we pushed our hobbled tandem back to ’civilization‘. This happened many years ago but I still remember it each time I start to feel down.
My son (8) and daughter (5) are both enthusiastic cyclists also. I can’t wait for the day that I’m able to introduce them to the joys of volunteering with the TRAILBLAZERS.
Linda and Simon Berkowitz
My wife and I still remember, with the greatest of fondness, that cold wintry day at The Toronto Bike Show four years ago, when a captain (sighted rider) approached us and asked if we would be interested in helping individuals with low or no vision (stoker) ride a tandem bicycle. We were intrigued and ultimately committed to such a wonderful opportunity.
We had been searching for a way that we could give back to the community, but had not found the “right” fit yet. TRAILBLAZERS was exactly what we were looking for.
Through TRAILBLAZERS we have met and ridden with many individuals. It has been one of those amazing volunteer experiences where you are not sure who benefits the most—the stoker or the captain. Every stoker has a unique story, but bar none, all have been fearless and have enjoyed being outdoors, involved in such an active and healthy activity.
We have ridden as little as 40 kilometers and as far as over 100 kilometers on a single ride, starting in Toronto and then going through the rolling and steep hills north of Toronto.
The courage of the stokers is to be commended—placing your life in someone’s hands who will take you travelling at great speeds through the city streets of Toronto and beyond requires a leap of faith.
We have been rewarded with great exercise, conversation and unique experiences. This club supplies everything required and at no cost at all to the captains and truly a minimal cost to the stokers and even that can be waived if it creates a hardship to pay. The excitement that new stokers show on getting on a bicycle is truly hard to imagine. I even had one who gleefully asked if she could ride in the front, until I explained that sight was required in order to see where we were going and where we needed to stop. I do not know of any other organization that gives so much, to so many and asks for so little in return. We look forward to volunteering with TRAILBLAZERS for many years to come.
I volunteer with the TRAILBLAZERS as a sighted cyclist. Having recently retired, I had the time and the desire to give back to the community. Having completed numerous marathons and triathlons, combined with my love of the outdoors, I found the TRAILBLAZERS organization the perfect place to volunteer. Cycling with the blind gives me such a thrill in that I can help others in a fun and exciting environment. To see the impact and appreciation from my blind riders is a huge motivation for me. The communication and socialization that we share during and after our rides is also vital as I know some blind people have limited social circles. I truly believe that I get more from the organization than I put in as I meet some really cool and inspiring people. In volunteering for TRAILBLAZERS, I believe I am doing my little bit so we can make this world a better place.