Gower saddles up to fundraise for air rescue

Patrick Gower. PHOTO: SUPPLIED
Patrick Gower. PHOTO: SUPPLIED
Broadcaster Patrick Gower will saddle up in Queenstown next month to help raise money for the Lakes District Air Rescue Trust.

Among the other 99 riders tackling the 230km Chopper Bike Ride, which ends in Invercargill on May 10, are former All Black and Westpac ambassador Richie McCaw, his wife, dual Commonwealth Games medallist and Black Sticks champion Gemma McCaw, 2012 Olympic gold medal-winning rower Nathan Cohen and seven members of the Lakes District helicopter crew.

All funds raised will go to the trust to support its life-saving work — last year, the Lakes District and Otago Regional rescue helicopters flew 2123 missions between them, saving countless lives with rescues and medical transfers.

Gower said while he was looking forward to the bike ride, "I think I must be crazy".

"It is brutally long and starts at a ridiculously stupid hour in below freezing temperatures", he said.

"But it is absolutely vital that we raise money to keep the rescue helicopter out there, so it can keep saving lives of people of the Deep South."

This year’s ride had been dubbed the "million-dollar bike ride"; organisers hope to raise the $80,000 needed to push the total funds raised since the first Chopper Bike ride in 2011, which attracted five riders, to the seven-figure mark.

Last year’s ride raised $160,000 for the Westpac Chopper Appeal, part of a nationwide total of $1.4 million.

Over the 12-hour ride, cyclists will stop at several primary schools, where riders will have a kick-around with donated sports equipment from the iSPORT Foundation.

Richie McCaw completed last year’s ride in snowy conditions alongside fellow 2011 World Cup winners Mils Muliaina and Jimmy Cowan — he had this year’s ride locked in as soon as the date was set.

"It’s a great day out for an awesome cause, made even better by being able to deliver some gear to some deserving schools along the way", he said.

"It’s a special part of the world and we’re so grateful for all the schools and communities who come out to cheer us on and donate to the cause."

Chopper Bike Ride organiser and Westpac NZ Otago and Southland regional manager Phil Taylor was grateful for the star power to boost the fundraising.

Lakes District and Otago Regional Rescue Helicopters also do medical transfers in the region’s remote and rugged territory.

People can donate to the ride by visiting "The Million $$$ Ride" Givealittle page.

— Staff reporter