A Legendary Tale: The Strathmore Poker Run’s 18 Year Legacy

Like many great western legends, it began with a wager at a local watering hole. A leather-clad biker named Dirtdog bet a good ol’ cowboy that he could raise more money for charity by bartending than he could. The cowboy took the bet and the challenge was on. That first weekend the cowboy and his friends tended bar and the following weekend, the biker and his crew took over.

As with all legendary tales, someone won by a landslide. Dirtdog and his crew walked out of that bar and off into the sunset the victors.

The challenge was all in good fun. The money raised was to be donated to charity. Dirtdog, also known at Matthew Janzen, caught the fundraising bug. The challenge inspired him to begin a local motorcycle rally, with proceeds going to charity. And with that, the Strathmore Poker Run was born.

Bikers in the badlands, 2014

In its first couple years, the event was small, but mighty with funds raised going to a local children’s charity. Riders set off from Strathmore and hit five stops in southern Alberta. At each stop, riders pull a card out of a shuffled deck of cards. By the last stop, and many hours later, the motorcyclists will have a complete poker hand. The best and worst hand receive various prizes and plaques.

It was a labour of love by Matt and twelve other committee members. Matt led with his charismatic, friendly, brazen, hardworking attitude.

What started as a challenge between two very different groups of locals – bikers versus cowboys, –became an annual event that brought the community together. People of all backgrounds, lifestyles, and experiences came together to ride or participate in the weekend’s events.

And a stereotype was beginning to soften. Bikers, often judged as a bad group of tough guys, were out on the road doing good, raising money for a good cause.

A couple years into the annual event, Matt was diagnosed with cancer. It was a tough blow to the friendly, outgoing biker, who had dedicated the last few years to the big fundraiser. While undergoing treatment, Matt became inspired by the children who fought the disease. Going through his own battle as an adult, Matt was heartbroken to learn that children, so young and vulnerable, were faced with the rigours of cancer treatments. He spoke with his fellow committee members.

In its third year, the Strathmore Poker Run chose the Kids Cancer Care Foundation of Alberta to be the beneficiary of their event, in honour of the children undergoing cancer treatment who had inspired Matt. Sadly, Matt lost his battle with cancer in 2002.

Friday night head shave, 2014

The legacy left by Matt grew from there. Today, the Strathmore Poker Run is a three-day celebration. On Friday night, there is a Shave You Lid for a Kid® head shave. In 2011, Matt’s mom shaved her head in honour of her son’s memory. Saturday features the poker run, the longest poker run, in kilometres, in southern Alberta. Stops include Rockyford, Carbon, Wayne and Standard, all of which open their community and their hearts to the riders. In the evening, the riders return to Strathmore for their last stop and a dinner and dance. A local band plays, while bikers and their supporters dance the night away. On the Sunday, the focus turns to families, with a motorcycle rally and other activities for everyone to enjoy.

The event is run solely by volunteers and local sponsors. Without these generous members of the community, t-shirts wouldn’t be printed, silent auction items wouldn’t be sourced and won and dinner wouldn’t be served (to over 160 people!).

And they know, Matt would be proud of what they have achieved in his memory. Over the past 17 years, they have raised $219,496.69 for Kids Cancer Care. The funds raised support families through the entire continuum of childhood cancer — fighting the disease on all fronts by igniting joy and laughter at camp; funding innovative science in the lab and providing the best care and treatments at the hospital; and creating brighter futures for survivors through education support and post-secondary scholarships.

And it’s still a labour of love for the 13 committee members. They have been known to be out mowing grass and setting up tents on Friday, rolling up their sleeves to serve dinner on Saturday and cleaning up when the event is over on Sunday. They do it because they know it’s what Matt would have done. Some of them are even permanently inked themselves with Strathmore Poker Run tattoos.

Sandy Scobie, one of the organizers of the events says, “It’s great to look back at where we’ve been and the impact we have made. It’s lots of work but it’s worth it.

When she’s asked what the goal is for 2017, she simply says, “Any amount raised for us is a success.”

We think Dirtdog would agree.

The 18th Annual Strathmore Poker Run takes place June 23 to 25th, 2017. For more information click here.