Bicycle riders are pictured after participating in the annual Wish-A-Mile, a bicycle tour that raises money for Make-A-Wish Michigan.

Bicycle riders are pictured after participating in the annual Wish-A-Mile, a bicycle tour that raises money for Make-A-Wish Michigan.

Photo provided by Joel Ungar


West Bloomfield bicycle riders raise funds for Make-A-Wish Michigan

By: Mark Vest | West Bloomfield Beacon | Published August 6, 2020

 West Bloomfield resident Mark Canvasser is pictured with “wish kid” Sophie Blumberg. Make-A-Wish Michigan helps grant wishes to children battling critical illnesses.

West Bloomfield resident Mark Canvasser is pictured with “wish kid” Sophie Blumberg. Make-A-Wish Michigan helps grant wishes to children battling critical illnesses.

Photo provided by Mark Canvasser

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WEST BLOOMFIELD — In 2012, life took an unexpected detour for West Bloomfield resident Mark Canvasser.

That year, he was preparing for his first Ironman Triathlon, which consists of a 2.4-mile swim, a 112-mile bicycle ride and a marathon, a 26.22-mile run.

As part of his training, Canvasser said, “I thought it would be fun to go do a 300-mile bike ride over a weekend.”

That “fun” 300-mile bike ride was for an event called Wish-A-Mile, a three-day bicycle tour that raises money for Make-A-Wish Michigan, which is a charitable organization that helps grant wishes to children with critical illnesses.

What Canvasser thought would be a “great training ride” turned out to be much more than that.

“I just got totally committed to the cause for the Make-A-Wish organization,” he said. “I entered for a training ride, and then I couldn’t stop because the organization does such great and wonderful work. So while I started to train, I saw amazing help that they provide to children in Michigan and their families. It’s not just granting a wish to a child, it’s granting a wish to the child and their family who are in need of a little happiness.”

Like Canvasser, West Bloomfield resident Joel Ungar wasn’t intending to make a long-term commitment when he decided to participate in WAM in 2017.

“It was kind of like something to achieve, 300 miles in three days,” said Ungar, who works as a CPA.

Somewhere along the way, Ungar’s mentality shifted.

“I came for the challenge, and then you start to meet the kids, learn more about Make-A-Wish and you realize what a fabulous organization it is,” he said. “The wish experience for the kids … often is like a key turning point for them. It gives these kids a chance to be normal and not have to think about their conditions for a day, a week, whatever it is. So, it’s like I came for the riding, and then I got excited by what the organization’s all about.”

Ungar, who is married and the father of two, recalled an experience he had after participating in WAM his first year. He said one of the wish kids put a medal around his neck and said, “Thanks for riding.”

“It was this little boy, 8, 9 years old, probably,” Ungar  said. “He had a very rare cancer that they found in time. … It was all I could do not to burst out in tears. One of my teammates said something (like), ‘The kid says thank you for riding.’ It’s like, ‘All I did was ride my bike. You’re the hero.’ … It can be a very emotional experience after three days of that.”

An event called the WAMmys has also elicited emotional responses from riders.

“They’ve given little kids puppies; they grant a wish, and they’ve sent (them) off in a vehicle to the airport to watch Michael Phelps swim in the Olympics,” Canvasser. said. “It’s so emotional. I thought I was (going to) be a rider one-and-done, and this is my ninth year. Just can’t stop. It’s an incredible cause touching children in Michigan facing sometimes critical life illnesses.”

Sherri Collins, who is the vice president of marketing and brand advancement for Make-A-Wish Michigan, said, “The wishes are as diverse as the children we serve.”

“It’s about bringing life-changing experiences to wish kids while they are battling their critical illnesses,” Collins said. “And it’s (an) opportunity for them to know that there is a community that loves and supports them and is rooting them on as they battle their conditions.”

The wishes that are granted can elicit much more than just temporary happiness.

“We’ve heard time and again from our families that wishes are so impactful, and it really is about the full journey,” Collins said. “So, from the time a child knows that they’ve qualified for a wish, through the anticipation of the wish, then receiving the wish, and then even after the wishes happen, it’s so life-changing for our children, and it is about more than just the wish. It’s about knowing that other people care and want to make a difference in their lives.”

Collins said that, typically, referrals for wish kids come from medical professionals and family members.

To qualify to receive a wish, recipients have to be between the ages of 2 1/2 and 18 at the time of referral and diagnosed with a critical illness, as confirmed by a physician.

To donate, visit michigan.wish.org or call (800) 622-9474.

This year’s Wish-A-Mile runs through Aug. 16.

WAM is typically a three-day ride that covers 300 miles, but this year, there are no mileage requirements, no registration fee and no fundraising minimum.

For more information, visit makeawishmichigan.donordrive.com.

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