The music’s pumping, the cheers of encouragement are ringing out and the energy level is through the roof. Every year, teams of volunteer riders — a great number of whom are from financial services firms — pedal their hearts out on stationary bicycles at the Ride for Diabetes Research, raising millions of dollars for charity, all in a party atmosphere.

“It’s a single-day event that raises a great amount of money for a great cause, but it’s so much fun,” says Judy Goldring, co-chairwoman of Ride for Diabetes Research’s Toronto chapter. “It’s so high-energy and it gives you such a boost.”

The ride — organized by Goldring, general counsel, executive vice president and chief operating officer with AGF Management Ltd. — is held every autumn in cities across Canada and supports the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation. (Juvenile diabetes, also known as Type 1 diabetes, typically strikes in childhood.) Teams consisting of five riders, usually affiliated with one firm, take turns riding for about eight minutes each, for a total of 40 minutes. Each team raises sponsorship money. In 2010, 21,000 people participated in the ride, generating approximately $6.9 million.

Financial services firms have embraced the ride, with thousands of people from banks, insurers, accounting firms, wealth managers, regulators and other firms participating. In fact, financial services firms are collectively the largest fundraising corporations for the event; for a few years running, Toronto-Dominion Bankhas won the award for the most money raised.

Each industry sector has its own “challenge cup,” with firms competing against their peers to see which firm can raise the most funds per capita. For example, recent winners of the wealth-management challenge cup include CI Investments Inc., First Asset Management Inc. and J.C. Clark Ltd.

“It’s a great way to bring in all kinds of different people at all kinds of different-sized firms and have healthy, fun, light-hearted competition,” says Goldring, whose firm has raised more than $500,000 for JDRF over the years.

Goldring became involved with the Ride for Diabetes Research in 2003 in part because her husband Robert suffers from Type 1 diabetes, which is an autoimmune disease in which the body’s immune system attacks the pancreas’s insulin-producing cells. The disease requires sufferers to take insulin daily and to make significant lifestyle changes to manage the disease properly. Many ride participants have some connection with diabetes, through a family member, friend or co-worker.

“What I think is great about the JDRF is that it has a very single focus, which is to find a cure for diabetes and its related complications,” explains Goldring. “The money goes into funding research, which is exactly what you need in order to find that cure. And they’ve made amazing progress.”

Last year, 9,300 riders attended the ride in Toronto, held at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre. At the end of each hour, one set of teams leaves and another set is brought in. Teams from the same sector tend to be scheduled for the same time slot, which leads to opportunities to say hello to old friends and colleagues as well as engage in friendly banter among teams.

“It’s a wonderful team-building event,” says Eric Frape, senior vice president of product and business development with IA Clarington Investments Inc. and a ride participant. “And there’s a competitive rivalry among firms to raise money, but in a positive way.” (Teams from IA Clarington have participated in the ride for the past two years.)

Every year, “ride ambassadors” — young people who have Type 1 diabetes — attend the ride to speak to participants about the disease and how they manage it.

“It’s not until you hear from the kids whose lives are directly affected on a daily basis by the disease that you understand the impact it has,” says Sandra Kidd, director of compliance and operations with Dynamic Mutual Funds Ltd. and a ride participant.

Kidd’s son Brenden, 14, was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes in 2007; he has twice served as a ride ambassador and is a regular attendee at the event, his mom says: “He always comes in just to say thank you. I would say just having him attend, listening to him talk with my friends and colleagues, is my favourite part of the ride every year.”

It’s also an opportunity for ride ambassadors to gain confidence, Goldring says: “You have a young individual who’s just trying to do all the things that a kid does, yet having to deal with this other major issue. To see them stand in front of a group of 1,000 people and talk and come into their own strength that way is quite great and inspiring.” IE