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Don Patterson plans this summer to cycle the 7,000 kilometres from Inuvik, N.W.T., to Ontario’s Point Pelee, Canada’s southernmost point.

“I’ll be getting out of bed at 4 a.m. each day, cycling 10 hours and making presentations in the evening,” says the 61-year old Edmonton-born and raised grandfather of four.

“I hope to cover 250 kilometres each day, though the first few days will be slower and challenging.”

That’s because he will cycle 700 kilometres over the lonely gravel road linking Inuvik with the Yukon’s Dawson City. “I’ll change tires in Dawson and then really get going,” he says.

He knows about getting going. In 2012, he rode from Vancouver to St. John’s, N.L., completing the solo ride in 28 days.

Why would the former Edmonton lawyer, now a Mississauga commercial estate real estate agent, punish himself by riding Canada north to south?

He loves cycling, of course, but he also seeks to increase awareness on the importance of physical activity for aboriginal youth.

Patterson wants to raise $150,000 in support of youth leadership and sports activities and develop sustainable community bike programs.

“More than 40 per cent of aboriginal children are overweight,” he says. “But studies show children involved in sport will go on to have lower rates of obesity and diabetes.

“They are also less likely to become involved with drugs and alcohol, two habits which can lead to crime and teenage suicides.”

Academic achievement is a huge challenge, with some 50 per cent not graduating from high school, Patterson says.

“The economic costs alone are in the billions of dollars. And aboriginal youth is the fastest growing segment of our society.”

Patterson is working with Motivate Canada’s GEN7 Aboriginal Role Model Program.

“GEN7 encourages aboriginal youth to live an active, healthy lifestyle through sport and physical activity,” says Patterson.

“The program helps youth build confidence and develop the leadership skills needed to make a difference in their community.”

Patterson believes every child should have the opportunity to participate in sports, irrespective of their physical abilities, financial resources or cultural background.

He will also help the YMCA, which he says plays an important role in building healthy communities by improving the lives of children, teens and young adults.

This was his message when he rode across Canada in 2012. After that ride, he was invited to the Alberta Indigenous Games. He has worked with aboriginal youth ever since.

“I’d always been aware of challenges within the community, but also the richness of aboriginal culture and the importance of traditional teachings,” he says.

“My father was a lawyer who worked within the aboriginal youth justice system here in Edmonton in the 1960s and ‘70s. We also had the opportunity to visit different communities and families. ”

Patterson will begin his ride in Inuvik on June 21, Aboriginal Day, and hopefully finish his journey July 19.

He will pass through Enoch First Nation and Edmonton on July 4 on his way that day to Maskwacis, formerly Hobbema.

Local cycling guru Alex Stieda has been helping him develop bike programs in these communities and plans to gather riders to join Patterson as he heads south.

“There are some great athletes in the aboriginal communities and lots of kids just love being active,” says Patterson. “To help them realize their potential, you can make a donation to the YMCA and Gen7 at spiritride.blog.com. Every cent goes to the cause.”

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