Charitable thrill seeker

You may want to call him the adventure-man. Others may call him just crazy.

  • Sep. 30, 2011 9:00 a.m.

Mark Jennings-Bates is a rally racer

You may want to call him the adventure-man. Others may call him just crazy.

But whatever you call 48-year-old Kelowna resident Mark Jennings-Bates, you have to include charitable.

He’s a rally racer, an Ironman, a mountain biker, a rock-climber and a fund-raiser.

But come January, Jennings-Bates will embark on his most ambitious project yet as he attempts to enter the Guinness Book of World Records for the longest continuous flight by a powered paraglider.

Jennings-Bates and a team that includes his wife Jackie and Vernon paragliding expert Glenn Derouin, will leave for Australia in January where they will attempt to fly more than 8,000 kilometres in a continuous paraglider expedition to set a new world record in an adventure project dubbed The Flight 4 Life.

The big question is why? And the answer is charity.

“Yes, it’s a great adventure and yes it’s a potential Guinness World Record if we’re successful,” said Jennings-Bates.

“But if we did that and didn’t do anything else, I’d personally find it a little shallow. I’d like to do something that gives back to the world or adds some value to the world.”

To do that, Jennings-Bates and his wife Jackie have formed a charity called the Rally4Life Foundation and set a goal of raising $4 million to save 200,000 lives.

Their goals are focused on Third World nations that struggle with finding safe drinking water, shelter and education.

As a non-profit charity, Rally4Life was born out of Mark’s adventurous spirit and Jackie’s philanthropic desires.

And it all started with Jennings-Bates adventures in a rally car on the Western Canadian rally car series.

After a few years of local racing, Jennings-Bates teamed up with a British rally team in the hopes of becoming the first Canadian driver to finish the world famous Dakar rally, a grueling 15,000 kilometre road race held annually in South America.

“When I started looking at the Dakar rally I realized most drivers who attempt it end up broke and divorced,” explained Jennings-Bates at a recent kick-off to the world record attempt.

“I’m not willing to end up broke and divorced so Jackie and I thought, ‘How do we create a vehicle where we are both rowing the boat in the same direction?’ Jackie had always wanted to do something charitable so we decided to combine the adventure events with philanthropy.”

And so Rally4Life was born. The not-for-profit charity currently is helping to support projects in Kenya, Guatemala and Nicaragua.

Since its inception, Jackie says her eyes have been opened to the sheer scope of some of the problems faced by residents around the world.

“You are up against huge numbers of people dying and just terrible, terrible conditions,” she said.

“But you also feel you are struggling against inefficient governments and a lack of coordinated effort.

“You have warlords and terrorists and drought conditions. There is such a huge vastness of problems.”

The Jennings-Bates and Rally4Life have turned to social media as a way to raise what at first glance seems a staggering goal of $4 million.

They have held numerous events around the Kelowna area to raise awareness and to try and create a following.

The Dakar Rally and the Flight 4 Life world record attempt, are ways to generate more interest and more followers on Facebook and Twitter.

The more people who are following Jennings-Bates’ exploits, the more people that can potentially donate money to the cause. Millions of followers can equal millions of dollars.

“The whole philosophy is based around social networking, using Facebook and Twitter and YouTube to develop a subscriber base,” said Jennings-Bates.

“We want to build a following and develop a call to action for those followers. We don’t see an end to this. We’re not going to raise $4 million and then stop.”

Originally the idea for the Rally4Life charity really took off when Jennings-Bates teamed up with Mick Extance, Britain’s top rally car racer and a veteran of the Dakar rally.

Jennings-Bates agreed to join Extance’s team, and drive in the Dakar, raising awareness for Rally4Life in the process.

But being with Extance’s team meant Jennings-Bates wasn’t in control of when the duo would enter the Dakar.

After several delays Jennings-Bates decided he needed another project to breathe life into their charity.

“We are going to race the Dakar, we just don’t know which one,” said Jennings-Bates.

“That’s in the hands of the Dakar team. We realized we needed to do something to get the whole project started for us. So we started the Flight 4 Life.”

Enter Glenn Derouin, the 22-year veteran of paragliding and owner of Vernon’s Paraglide Canada.

As it happens one of Derouin’s original students over 20-years-ago was none other than Jennings-Bates.

Two-and-a-half years ago the pair started talking about the possibilities of a paragliding adventure.

Now the flights are booked and there is no looking back with the world record attempt set to begin this February in Australia.

“In all my travels around the world I realized how fortunate we are to be born here,” said Derouin.

“There are a lot people in less developed countries that are desperate for clean water and to have proper schools and clothing and electricity. At some point in your life you realize you want to give something back.”

Derouin will be first to depart for Australia in the new year, heading down under to begin preparations and to test conditions.

Powered paragliders can fly up to 40 km/h but heavy winds can play havoc. The team will fly twice a day for up to 90 days in a row, stopping every three to four hours for fuel with up to eight hours per day in the air.

The expedition can’t have any lengthy delays to be considered a continuous expedition by Guinness.

Derouin and Jennings-Bates will both fly separate para-gliders, units that are powered by a 200 cc motor that turns a propeller and generates lift.

Derouin says powered paragliding is the fastest growing aviation sport in the world because you can take off and land from virtually anywhere with your legs used as the landing gear.

Still, flying one of the units every day for three months in Australia is cause for some concern.

“It’s going to be a challenge,” said Derouin. “The heat, the wind, the dirt and the dust. It’s not super physical but you are flying with your hands up in the air and landing and taking off every three hours. It will be quite taxing.”

The Flight 4 Life has already drawn plenty of attention. In Australia, Jennings-Bates has been asked to join the Friends of Australia, a group of about 80 influential folks asked by Tourism Australia to promote the area.

He is also in discussions with a production company to film the Flight 4 Life project for a television program.

Whatever takes place and however the world record attempt goes, the Jennings-Bates are hopeful it kicks their charity into high gear. “We just need to keep going and do everything we can to keep moving towards the goal of saving lives,” said Jackie. “We try to keep it simple, keep it small. If you just focus on what you can do, on one project at a time, then you can make a difference.”

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