On August 24, 1989, Bonita Bedard was thrilled to meet her two new twin granddaughters, Kayla and Samantha Flint. Her joy was soon matched with a feeling of helplessness, when the family learned that one of the babies, Kayla, had cystic fibrosis. Bonita and the rest of the family didn’t know anything about the disease, which is a chronic, inherited disorder affecting the lungs and digestive system, so they started researching and talking to doctors. What they found scared them.
“Her doctor was very straightforward,” says Bonita. “He told us that there were strides being made, but at that point, survival was to early adulthood, late teens. And as we learned more about it, we met people who lost kids when they were 12, and all different ages.”
Then the family learned that around the same time that Kayla was born, scientists isolated the gene for CF. There was hope.
Kayla Flint, left, who has cystic fibrosis, has grown up with The Stampede. Now 23, she says it's her favorite time of year.
While Bonita's daughter, Kristi, and son-in-law, Todd, were busy giving their new twins everything they needed (including medication for Kayla and chest physical therapy multiple times a day), Bonita and her husband, David, wanted to do something. They’d heard about a water aerobics CF fundraiser at a local fitness center in their hometown of Bristol, Vermont. “I said I think we should get involved in this and raise money because we wanted to effect research. We wanted to have a future. How are we going to make sure that Kayla has a future?” says Bonita. “We did a lot of thinking about what’s the best way to do that. We didn't’ want to raise money for Kayla. We wanted to raise money for the research, so it was a bigger picture thing.”
When Kayla was about 1 year old, they took over the fundraiser, which, previously, had raised about $600, and turned it into a walkathon, so that more people could participate. The first year, about 40 people showed up, and, to Bonita’s surprise, they raised $2,800, which they donated to the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation (CFF). The next year, more people came and they raised $6,900. The year after that, as she was preparing for the walk-a-thon, Bonita's father-in-law passed away, leaving behind a house full of items. Bonita, her husband and his brothers decided to hold a lawn sale, donating the money to CFF. During the sale, car after car stopped, as friends and neighbors asked if they could donate items to sell. That year, between the sale and the walkathon, they raised more than $10,000. They decided to expand it to a three-day event. One of their sponsors is WOKO, a country radio station out of Burlington, so they named it The Stampede.
Something started germinating, and slowly The Stampede went from a family fundraiser to an event the town of 4,000 took ownership of. The next year came, and the next, and more and more people dropped off items for them to sell. More and more people started volunteering. More and more corporate sponsors signed on. More and more money came in. This year marks the 20th anniversary of the Three Day Stampede Towards the Cure for Cystic Fibrosis, July 26-28. Today, more than 100 people volunteer to help with the event, which now draws an estimated 6,000 to 7,000 people, and includes a walkathon, a 5k run, a raffle, an enormous sale under 20 tents, a silent auction that brings in nearly $25,000, a motorcycle ride, concessions, a bake sale, a chicken barbecue and more. Last year, alone, the event raised $105,000. To date, they’ve raised and donated $1.3 million to the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation.
Lisa O'Connor, who is executive director with the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation’s Northern New England Chapter, has watched the Stampede grow in the 20 years she’s worked for CFF. To talk about the event, she gets downright giddy. “They’re unbelievable. When I think of the Bedards and The Stampede and everyone involved, really it’s just amazing. We talk about it in the office, 'They’re amazing. They’re amazing. What are they going to do this year? How are they going to outdo themselves?' That’s what it’s all about.”
The Bedard family, and a team of 100 volunteers, starts planning for The Stampede two months in advance of the July event. Last year, they raised more than $100,000 for the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation.
O’Connor says that CFF puts the event on their calendar to let people know about it, but other than that, the Bedards and the town of Bristol manage the event in its entirety—and it just keeps getting better. “They do everything for this. They literally sent us last year over $100,000. They do all the work. They tell us you don’t have to do anything. We’re doing it. We don’t want you guys to spend a penny. They don’t even want us to make them a plaque,” says O’Connor. “For everything they do, I couldn’t begin to thank them.”
For Bonita and the Bedard family, there’s no question that they get out even more than they put into the event. “It renews my faith in humans. I call people and ask them for crazy things. I ask them to do things that you would never think somebody would be asking you to do,” says Bonita. “People are just so darn good. And they really, really want to help. And they really, really want to do something that is positive. It’s a positive kind of experience when they come to the Stampede.”
Bonita says that all six of her grandchildren have grown up with the Stampede, and look forward to it every single year. She says that for Kayla, in particular, it’s her favorite time of year. Now 23, Kayla is a championship field hockey player and works doing embroidery, screen printing and graphic design. Bonita says that she’s had some pulmonary challenges in recent years, but is doing well, and is hopeful for new treatments that are currently being tested. In fact, in the 20 years since the family has started raising money for the CFF, research and treatments for the disease have advanced, and many people with CF can expect to live into the 30s and 40s and longer.
“We just want Kayla as healthy as we can keep her until we have a treatment that’s going to make a difference,” says Bonita.
To learn more about The Three Day Stampede Toward the Cure for Cystic Fibrosis visit www.threedaystampede.org.