Bike ride pedals on in memory of fallen Morinville resident

Lorette Champagne, widow of Roger Champagne, and Jim Douville, Roger’s nephew and family spokesperson, presented the 21st bike to MCHS student Jake Weismantel May 13. The presentation took place in the MCHS library with family members joining teacher Greg Boutestein and the 10 students participating in the 23rd Annual Roger Champagne Memorial Bike Trip to be held May 21-24. – Lucie Roy Photo

by Stephen Dafoe with files from Lucie Roy

Morinville – It has been many years since Roger Champagne was gunned down in Las Vegas by a man looking to feed his drug habit, but the Morinville man – well known for his dedication to the community – has never been forgotten by friends, family or the hundreds of Morinville Community High School (MCHS) students who have taken part in an annual mountain bike journey that carries his name.

On May 13 Lorette Champagne, widow of Roger Champagne, and Jim Douville, Roger’s nephew and a spokesperson for the family, presented a new bike to MCHS student Jake Weismantel, one of the participants in this year’s ride. Each year the family presents a bike to the Physical Education 30 student who demonstrates determination, a strong commitment to physical fitness and strong interpersonal and leadership skills, exactly the qualities needed for the upcoming journey. This year’s presentation was the 21st bike the family has presented.

Douville said he was five years old when he presented the first bike in 1994 to a recipient who would be about 40 years old now. Twenty-one years later, the family is still presenting bikes and still continuing Roger Champagne’s sense of community. “The family took a tragic event of Roger being shot and killed and made it into a happy one,” Douville said during the May 13 presentation. “It is years since he passed away but he still has an impact on so many people.”

Roger Champagne was one of the original people to organize the annual MCHS bike trip, a journey that today takes students 215 kilometres through the mountains from Lake Louis to Jasper. It was Champagne who built the first tandem trailer to haul bikes and supplies to the starting point of the trip. After the riders began their journey, he’d follow students in his own vehicle, offering help when needed or even a ride to those who encountered serious trouble along the way. Champagne, well regarded for his skills in the kitchen, did much of the cooking on the trips, a talent greatly appreciated at the end of a long day of peddling.

Now in its 23rd year, the bike ride Champagne helped launch continues to unite MCHS students from different grades for a few days of physical activity and fellowship.

MCHS teacher Greg Boutestein said he has been involved with the annual ride for 18 of its 23 years and believes it is important. “I think there is a lot of value in the trip [or] anytime you can take kids out of the building and kind of give them a real-life adventure that’s not in the pages of a text book,” he said. “For me the biggest thing about the trip is the kids overcoming their challenges. I think a lot of kids choose not to do the trip because it’s too tough or difficult. They are overcoming obstacles and challenges on that trip and they are doing something that they maybe didn’t think they were able to do.”

Boutestein said 10 students are participating in this year’s journey, an equal split between male and female. The trip has seen smaller numbers the last few years, but Boutestein said the journey would continue as long as there is interest in participating. “We would love to have closer to 20, but every grade is represented,” he said. “The fact the family is still willing to do this two decades after he’s passed away; that just speaks to the people in his family and how much he meant to them, and how much he meant to everyone in the community. If he hadn’t been involved in this, the trip never would have happened.”

To prepare for the trip, Boutestein and the students have been training each Sunday with rides ranging from 37 to 70 kilometres each week.

Students leave May 21 for the mountains and their three-day journey.

Lorette Champagne and family members gather for a photo with teacher Greg Boutestein and 21st bike recipient Jake Weismantel on Tuesday morning at MCHS.

Video on the Roger Champagne Memorial Bike Trip

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