REGINA — It took nearly twenty minutes for the STARS air ambulance crew to expertly prepare for takeoff from their Regina base this morning, but the task-at-hand was a little different than usual — it was the return of the annual Rescue on the Prairie fundraiser.
Back for the first time since 2019, the big fundraising event welcomed four community figures to take part in a series of challenges with the STARS crew at a mystery location outside the city, with the goal of eliciting donations to be the first one “rescued” and brought back to base.
This year’s challengers included Ritchie Bros. sales director Jordan Clarke, Western Sales vice-president of precision agronomy Corey Leonard, president of Border Insulators & R&R Tank and Equipment Rentals Ryan Saxon, and board chair Wayne Morsky from the Regina Exhibition Association Limited.
“I’m really excited,” said Morsky, prior to takeoff in the morning. “This is a great cause, especially considering what we went through and for our frontline workers, who’ve committed so much to us. It feels even better.”
The fundraiser is one of the largest for STARS, second only to the annual lottery that sweeps the province each year. The event has raised more than $2.3 million in Saskatchewan since it began in 2015.
“Fifty per cent of our funding comes from the community, and every little dime goes toward the mission, so it's critically important to keep us flying for the people of Saskatchewan,” said Robertson.
Today’s goal is to reach $200,000 raised, or $50,000 by each participant, and Robertson said the organization is grateful for every penny pledged.
All four participants get to try their hand at an aviation challenge, a medical challenge, and a mystery challenge throughout the morning, to get a feel for what STARS crews do everyday.
For Morsky, who won the initial readiness challenge of the day for a $2,500 headstart on his friendly opponents, the fundraising is one of the highlights about taking part.
“It's a group effort. It's not just individual, it's not a competition. It's about what we can help STARS with, as the four of us together, and that's the important part,” said Morsky.
Morsky, Clarke, Leonard and Saxon also did some pre-fundraising before the event day, which meant that the total donations raised before things even kicked off was already nearing $190,000.
But for the STARS team, Robertson said that being able to host events like these is about more than just the dollars.
“It's about community engagement, and about everyone understanding what STARS does and why we’re here,” said Robertson.
Those who participate in the rescue challenges get a first-person look at what STARS crews do while out on an emergency call, which Robertson said is a unique opportunity.
“We call it friend-raising, because the experience today is really about what we do,” said Robertson. “They learn a lot about aviation, but most importantly, they learn a great deal about medicine [and] they get to see firsthand the culture of this team, and this team is extraordinary.”
Robertson said after a long year of cancelling events and postponing meet-ups with patients and public, the entire hangar was excited to see Rescue on the Prairie lift off.
“It’s pretty wonderful to be together,” said Robertson. “This is a team that’s very used to close relationships with our donors, and to not have had that exposure for a year and a half, it's been hard.”
The Manitoba arm of the organization hosted it's Rescue on the Island sister event last week, and the Alberta crew is set to follow suit next month.