Cyclists leave Lakeside Park for the annual MS Bike West Kootenay Challenge. The cycling portion of the event was cancelled because of poor air quality, but some riders still set off on their own. Photo: Tyler Harper

Smoke scraps Nelson’s MS Bike Challenge

The annual fundraising event cancelled its cycling Saturday because of poor air quality

Poor air quality forced the cancellation of the MS Bike West Kootenay Challenge in Nelson on Saturday.

The annual event, which raises money for the Multiple Sclerosis Society of Canada, usually features a weekend cycling tour through the Nelson area.

But Jillian Earl, the society’s development co-ordinator in its BC-Yukon division, said the wildfire smoke was too thick to risk the health of the cyclists.

“If it was a moderate, we would have told people, ‘Hey if you have a history of heart or lung problems, self monitor and please for your own safety don’t do this,’” she said. “But if it was reading a seven or higher, for the health and safety of our participants who we care deeply about, we had to cancel it.”

Environment Canada’s air quality health index, which is measured locally in Castlegar, was listed at high risk, or 10 out of 10, on Saturday morning and was forecast to remain the same Sunday.

Earl said organizers would decide Saturday afternoon if the Sunday event would go ahead of not.

Approximately 30 cyclists opted to set off anyway for a mass ride with a police escort Saturday morning. The event had raised just over $85,000 by Saturday, although Earl said the final number would be higher as they tried to reach their $100,000 goal.

“It’s a shame, but the really amazing part is people didn’t stop fundraising and that’s what we are here to do,” she said. “We’re here to support this amazing cause, multiple sclerosis. We want to provide research and programs and services for people and their families who are afflicted with this disease.”

Multiple sclerosis, an autoimmune disease of the central nervous system, affects an estimated 55,000 to 75,000 Canadians, according to the MS Society.

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