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Black Woods Blizzard Tour Set For Wednesday

Feb 04, 2018 07:28AM ● By Editor

JESSE WHITE, OUTDOORS COLUMNIST, Mesabi Daily Miner - February 4, 2018

What started in 1999 as a snowmobile ride by four men around Lake Superior to raise money for a friend who was diagnosed with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease, has turned into a yearly tradition in northern Minnesota.

And in the process the Black Woods Blizzard Tour has raised nearly $8.8 million for the Minnesota/North Dakota/South Dakota Chapter of the ALS Association.

The 19th annual version of the tour – dubbed “Never Surrender, a Ride to Fight ALS” - is set for Wednesday with a reception at the Black Woods Grill and Bar in Proctor.

The next morning some 217 riders will depart for Lake Vermilion where after a day of riding they will enjoy dinner and accommodations at Fortune Bay Resort & Casino. On Friday participants will ride down the scenic North Shore to Two Harbors where Black Woods Grill & Bar hosts dinner.

The riders will spend the night there and then return to Proctor on Saturday.

When it’s all said and done they will have snowmobiled across 380 miles of groomed trail to raise money and awareness for ALS.

“It’s a very important event for us to sponsor because of all the great work Sandy Judge and her team do,” said Brian Anderson, Director of Sales and Public Relations at Fortune Bay. “They are very passionate about raising awareness and funding to help battle this terrible disease. We are honored to play a small part in assisting their efforts.”

Fortune Bay has been a stop on the tour since 2001.

Judge, the Development Manager for the MN/ND/SD chapter of the ALS Association, said Funds from the event account for a large portion of chapter’s annual budget.

“The Association supports individuals living with ALS throughout the progression of the disease. The chapter supports individuals with ALS with durable medical equipment; augmentative communication devices; and respite care for full time live-in family caregivers. We also support global research to find a cause or causes for ALS,” she said.

According to information on the ALS Association website, the event got it’s start in 1999 when four men - Randy Bannor, Dennis Nelson, Larry Bannor and Greg Sorenson - decided to create fundraiser after one of their friends was diagnosed with ALS.

They took pledges and planned a snowmobile ride around Lake Superior.

At the time Bannor said their friend was a member of the Minnesota United Snowmobile Association and the sport was important to him.

The group raised $15,000 and covered 2,000 miles around the lake that year. They also picked up a fifth partner along the way – Wes Blakeslee, a Polaris engineer who had ALS - and a motto, “Never Surrender.”

In 2000, the Black Woods Grill and Bar in Proctor took over primary sponsorship and named the ride the Black Woods Blizzard Tour.

That year also featured the addition of a notable celebrity host – former Minnesota Twins catcher Terry Steinbach, who lost his father to ALS the year prior.

Steinbach eventually brought former Minnesota Twins and current Detroit Tigers manager Ron Gardenhire into the fold.

Kent Hrbek, former Minnesota Twins first baseman has joined the Black Woods Blizzard Tour for many of its 17 years as well. According to organizers, Hrbeck has been committed to ALS research and those fighting the disease since his father, Ed Hrbek, died of ALS in 1982.

Judge said guest celebrities this year include Steinbach, Hrbek and Tim Laudner, another professional baseball player. However, because of a certain game today in Minneapolis some familiar faces won’t be able to attend this year.

Judge said because the event was moved one week later to work around the Super Bowl, Gardenhire, his wife Carol and Detroit Tigers’ bench coach Joe Vavra and his wife Lesa are unable to join us due to baseball spring training.

Still, that won’t stop the hundreds of other others set to participate this year.

“The riders have created a family atmosphere that is very unique. First year participants feel this ‘family’ atmosphere even after the first year,” Judge said. “To have 200 plus riders and volunteers come together in a united front is simply an awesome feeling. It’s a camaraderie that is second to none.”

Anderson echoed that sentiment.

“This group is amazing to work with. Everyone that we interact with is so positive and upbeat even after a long ride here and a long ride to the finish line,” Anderson said. “There have been some years where the bitter cold makes it tough to even fire up the sleds, yet all of the riders hop on their sleds knowing they still have one last ride to make before hitting the finish line.”

Anderson added that the event keeps growing every year.

“I think that is a testament to the hard work that Sandy and the ALS Association do - they are tireless workers who care deeply about finding a cure for ALS and they are to be commended for the work they do,” he said.

ALS is a progressive neurodegenerative disease that slowly robs a person of the ability to walk, speak, swallow and, eventually breathe. With no known cause or cure, a person can expect to live typically 2 to 5 years from the time of diagnosis.

ALS has no racial, ethnic or socioeconomic boundaries and in only 10% of cases there is a family history of ALS. Today, there are approximately 500 people in Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota and Superior, Wis. living with ALS.

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