Bethlehem, Pa., May 3–4 — The MDA Ride for Life is a two-day event held the first weekend of May each year to raise money for research and care of those suffering from muscular disease. Many children and adults are diagnosed each year with MD, but this weekend is all about the kids. Harley-Davidson has been a huge supporter of the Muscular Dystrophy Association for several decades, and this ride, hosted by the Eastern Harley-Davidson Dealers Association, is currently the nation’s largest Harley-Davidson fundraising event to benefit MDA.
All money raised stays in the six-state area represented by the 28 Harley-Davidson dealerships that comprise the EHDDA in New Jersey, Maryland, Delaware, northern Virginia, Pennsylvania and southern New York, and helps individuals and families living with one of 43 neuromuscular diseases. Over $19 million has been raised to date, providing many families with the ability to receive clinical care and support services including sending children serviced by MDA to a weeklong, specially designed MDA summer camp.
This year’s event, as in the past two years, was held at the SteelStacks ArtsQuest Center, the former Bethlehem Steel plant. On Saturday the bikers who spent the previous couple of months raising funds by getting friends, family and business contacts (you get the idea) to donate to the cause, as well as those who donated their own funds, gathered at SteelStacks for a day of fun and entertainment. Also onsite was a tent with items for a silent auction. Items ranged from grab bags of Harley goodies to autographed sports stars’ photographs and jewelry. A second tent held a bunch of fun things like candy and crafted items that were raffled off in a unique way. The interested participant would purchase an arm’s length of tickets, put their info on the tickets and then place the tickets in cans next to each item. At the specified time, a ticket was drawn from each can and the winner was awarded their prize. This year marked a record high of 30 vendors onsite! They included tents representing the LeRaysville Cheese Factory, natural sunscreen, jewelry, Fathead Hot Peppers, airbrush tattoos, and three different wineries. Even the American Motordrome Wall of Death was present this year.
As evening came, one of the highlights of the event, the Good Will Ambassador float parade, began. The “floats” are the wheelchairs of some of the kids whom we were there to help, all decorated and transformed into rolling art with the help of some of the bikers and the Lowes Home Improvement stores, which provide both the materials and some manpower. We were treated to a race car, spaceship, airplane, dolphin, killer whale and others. The kids were justifiably proud of their rides and each wore a huge smile as they passed by the crowd and crossed in front of the stage to the cheering of the onlookers.
Saturday’s activities closed out with the headliner concert many of us were looking forward to ever since it was announced months ago that Bret Michaels of the 80’s hair band Poison would be performing. Bret did not disappoint as he rocked the Stacks with many of the hits he made famous with Poison. A rain shower toward the end of the set couldn’t faze the fans or the band, and as the show wound down Bret brought Bryson Foster, the National MDA Goodwill Ambassador and MD patient, onstage. The pair did a tremendous duet of Poison’s “Nothin’ But a Good Time.” A notable moment came when the show ended and the cowboy hat Bret wore onstage was auctioned off and raised $500 for MDA.
Sunday was Ride for Life XXVII Thunder Parade day. The bikers participating in the parade were marshaled in the parking lot of the Penn State Lehigh campus. Official staging time was 8:00 a.m., but those who wanted to guarantee a spot close to the front began arriving at 7:00. When police-escorted parade departed the parking lot it was led by more than a dozen bikes with sidecars, and in the sidecars were area MDA Goodwill Ambassadors, some of the kids for whom we do this ride. Following the sidecars were Harley-Davidson representatives, participating dealers and VIPs, and riders who raised more than $1,600. Filling out the ride were the rest of us riders. Once the parade reached SteelStacks, many people quickly gathered to get Willie G. Davidson’s autograph. After the autograph sessions ended everyone moved to the stage area for the traditional auction, recognition of the top fundraisers and drawings for the two big prizes. The first, a Milwaukee Experience at the Harley headquarters in Milwaukee, was won by Valley Forge H.O.G. member Keith Dewey. The grand prize was a brand-new Willie G.-autographed 2014 Street Glide Special with the Ride for Life emblem, and it was won by Brenda Stewart from Schaeffer’s H-D. Once the drawings were done the final order of business was to announce the total raised, a whopping $1,068,433, making this year the most successful fundraiser in MDA Ride for Life history.
Top 3 Fundraising Dealerships
1.) Schaeffer’s Harley-Davidson, Orwigsburg, PA—$239,214
2.) Classic Harley-Davidson, Leesport, PA—$201,464
3.) Brian’s Harley-Davidson, Langhorne, PA—$105,447
Top 2014 Fundraisers
1.) Mike Dimov, Susquehanna Valley Harley-Davidson—$53,115
2.) Denise Welsh, White’s/Iron Valley Harley-Davidson—$32,101
3.) Robert Noll, White’s/Iron Valley Harley-Davidson—$28,304
Top Youth Fundraisers
1.) Brandon Mueller, Schaeffer’s Harley-Davidson—$3,252
2.) Tabitha Klingler, White’s/Iron Valley Harley-Davidson—$1,606
3.) Hunter Burk, Classic Harley-Davidson—$1,100
(This article was published in the July 2014 issue of Thunder Press, North edition.)