Destination Defender 2023 took place last November at the Iron Horse Ranch, Somerville, TX. Along with hundreds of enthusiasts, presentations by Land Rover luminaires worldwide, off-roading and fabulous music, the announcement of the Defender Service Awards — the donation of a new Defender 130 to the winning non-profit service organizations — remained the highlight of the event.

Defender Service Awards 2023

One evening, Vermont Adaptive Sports’s representative Jeff Alexander and I were chatting away when he received an emergency phone call. Jeff listened and said, “Sure, just go ahead and buy the four tires for the old truck.” Turning to me, he sighed and reiterated, “I really hope we win the Defender!”

JLR’s third annual Defender Service Awards (DSA) offered North American non-profits the chance to win a Defender 130 kitted out for their individual needs. Hundreds of organizations submitted videos that attested to the potential impact of the Defender; collectively, nearly 500,000 votes were cast online to whittle down the contestants to five finalists in each of five categories: Veteran & Civil Servant Outreach; Community Services; Animal, Wildlife & Marine Mammal Welfare; Search, Rescue & Emergency Support Services; and Outdoor Accessibility & Education. This year, JLR added a sixth category — Defender Service Honorees, 2021 & 2022 Finalists — and awarded another Defender 130. With its corporate partners (Chase, Warner Discovery, Outside, ei3, Pelican, Hearts and Science), JLR gave significant cash donations to
the finalists and runners-up.

Last month, JLR brought representatives of the winning organizations to the Land Rover Experience Biltmore, Asheville, NC, to reveal their Defenders to them and provide vehicle orientation and off-road driver training from Land Rover Experience (LRE) instructors.

The winners saw their Defender 130s in person as the instructors drove them up the driveway of the majestic Biltmore Estate. You could hear gasps of amazement and see tears of joy from the representatives; you could also sense the pride of the Defender Service Award corporate partners and JLR staff present at the event.

I felt humbled when I met up with representatives of the winning non-profits at both Destination Defender and the Defender Service Award training in Asheville.

Squamish Search and Rescue, Squamish, BC
(DSA Partner: Pelican)
Kathy Wolfe
Christy Allan

Defender Service Awards 2023

Kathy: “All of our 90 rescuers are volunteers, and they cover a wide region – a lot of it is back country. One of our members saw the Service Award announcement online and said, ‘Let’s go for it!’ I was shocked when we won. Routinely we all wear our Search and Rescue jackets around town, and we would be stopped on the street by people saying, ‘You won the Land Rover!’ Actually, they won the Land Rover for us through their online voting.”

“We’ve had rescues in recent months using our existing trucks. Some can’t tackle the dirt roads and trails we must travel in order to complete a rescue. After an off-road demonstration drive in a new Defender, I found the experience incredible. I had no idea what a Defender could do.”

Christy: “This was my first time in a Land Rover. The off-road driving instruction was the highlight of the weekend. The capability of the Defender really impressed us, and it was wonderful to drive it in conditions similar to what we encounter on a rescue. Our LRE instructor, Darren Moore, was incredible and so calm!”

Youth Sports Alliance, Park City, UT
(DSA Partner: Outside Interactive)
Emily Fisher
Ashley Laakso

Defender Service Awards 2023

Emily: “We learned about the Defender Service Awards through the Range Rover House event last year. This was our second time applying. Our biggest need – and expense – is transportation for over 2,400 kids for our after-school programming. When we can provide transportation, 1 out of 5 eligible kids attend. When we can’t, participation drops to 1 out of 19.
We also have a garage full of loaner mountain bikes to move each day, so the Defender will be doing a lot of towing our bike trailers.”

Manitoba Underdogs Rescue, Winnipeg, MB
(DSA Partner: Animal Planet)
Jessica Hansen
Tara Maslowsky

Defender Service Awards 2023

Jessica: “Manitoba Underdogs Rescue’s mission is to rescue, rehabilitate and ultimately place Manitoba’s unwanted animals in loving homes. Our fully volunteer organization largely serves remotes Northern Manitoba communities, such as the First Nation towns, that lack the resources to care for countless animals. We make available veterinary services, shelter and foster/forever homes.”

“The Biltmore weekend was mind-blowing and a complete whirlwind. I didn’t know much about Land Rovers until our nomination, and this weekend, I discovered that it’s literally built for off-road use. The roads we travel on up north are muddy, slick with snow and potholed. Our current minivan is falling apart from the conditions, but this Defender will get us there and back on every rescue.”

Honour House Society, New Westminster, BC
(DSA Partner: Hearts and Science)
Al De Genova
Tim Armstrong

Defender Service Awards 2023

Al: “Honour House Society provides a home away from home for members and veterans of the Canadian Armed Forces, Emergency Services Personnel and their families. We also operate the Honour House Ranch, a rural retreat for respite and therapeutic services.”

“I had a ’98 Land Rover Discovery delivered to my driveway at home. The moment the Service Award Defenders drove up the Biltmore driveway was so surreal; it brought back the memories of my Discovery. I want JLR to know that I am over the top appreciative. I am very grateful for what we won. It will change lives for our recovery population and our organization as the vehicle will take them everywhere. I had taken my old Discovery off road a lot, and it was great fun to work the winch line on the new Defender.”

Tim: “I enjoy my Range Rover Evoque, but after the lesson with instructor Sean Jones, I returned completely fired up about the Defender and the Experience training. I’m so impressed by what the Defender can do; it’s an incredible piece of machinery!”

Kairos Adventures, Cassleberry, FL
(DSA Partner: ei3)
Heather Subbert
Kaley Cordel

Defender Service Awards 2023

Heather: “I’m the founder and Executive Director of our one-year-old organization. We empower people of varying abilities around Orlando to discover and develop their unique, God-given potential and purpose. We use music, drama, dance, culinary arts and video production as our outlets. We’ll use the Defender as a community service tool for our artists, to move equipment and get community service volunteers to their sites.”

“Kaley and I were near tears when we saw our Defender come up the drive towards the Biltmore Estate. It was finally here, and we enjoyed being in that moment!”

“I’d never driven a Land Rover before. Jim Goodrum, our Experience instructor, was incredible in terms of his knowledge and inspiring confidence. It was clear that he knew what he was doing, especially on a side slope at a 28-degree angle!”

Kaley: “The Defender will help transport our participants in a safe and convenient manner. There’s plenty of room to store wheelchairs, and the adjustable height will really be a help, too. I’d never experienced driving off-road like we did. The Defender’s capabilities, especially at slow speeds, were unbelievable.”

Charleston Animal Society, Charleston, SC
Bryant Taylor
Joe Elmore

Defender Service Awards 2023

Bryant Taylor has worked with the 150-year-old Charleston Animal Society for three years. “As an equestrian, I’ve always been an animal lover,” he said. The group rescues animals caught in natural disasters or negligent owners, cares for them and finds them foster or permanent homes. They’re proud to create the state’s first No-Kill zone [no euthanasia -ed.] and seek to expand it statewide.

“A member of our Board of Directors owns a Defender,” Bryant explained, “and heard about the competition. We entered in 2022 and while we were a finalist, we didn’t win. We entered again this year and our local and statewide supporters responded brilliantly to our requests to vote online.”
“The CSA does a lot with the other 45 shelters throughout the state, as well as in other states. We share resources together, such as veterinary services, and we support law enforcement in situations of animal cruelty. As you know, South Carolina has its share of hurricanes from June–
November, and animal rescues are often requested. Recently, we had a rescue situation requiring dirt road and field transport that our existing truck and trailer could not reach.”