A very special 5-year-old girl appears on her little “Harley” in the lead photo for this article. Maggie, the daughter of Ken and Bridget Swearingen, had a rough start in life. She had to be delivered by emergency C-section at 27 weeks weighing 2 pounds, 3 ounces. She was taken to the NICU where a nasogastric feeding tube and PICC line, a semi-permanent type of IV, were inserted and remained for her first month. At birth, Maggie also had defective heart valve that was corrected by medication. After two months in the NICU, Maggie was able to go home close to her original due date, weighing 4 pounds, 8 ounces. The Swearingens are the 2011 March of Dimes ambassador family.
Research and treatments made possible by donations to the March of Dimes dramatically increase the probability of successful outcomes in cases like Maggie’s. The March of Dimes is a nonprofit organization that helps to fund research and programs that find answers to the problem of premature birth and other infant health issues. March of Dimes advocacy efforts in state and federal governments are making it possible for more parents to get health coverage and care for their babies and children. The organization’s educational programs assist women in recognizing the signs of preterm labor and learning what to do if they experience them.
Bikers for Babies® events are a major source of donations for the March of Dimes, and the largest such event is held every year in Kansas City. Since its 1995 inception, the Kansas City Bikers for Babies® RIDE has raised over $5.6 million. The American Motorcycle Association-sanctioned RIDE is sponsored nationally and presented in Kansas City by Farmers Insurance and sponsored by HCA Midwest Health Systems, 98.9 The Rock, and Price Chopper. Other major sponsors include Blue Springs Harley-Davidson , Gail’s Harley-Davidson , Rawhide Harley-Davidson , and Worth Harley-Davidson . The event has experienced dramatic growth since the first one raised $3,000 with 130 riders participating. This year, thousands of bikes participated in the 100-mile RIDE in spite of rainy weather, and donations amounted to about $560,000.
Many of the riders had taken advantage of opportunities to register on line or at one of the pre-registration events that were held at Topeka Harley-Davidson, H&H Grill, Blue Springs Harley-Davidson , Kobi’s Bar & Grill, Gail’s Harley-Davidson , Rawhide Harley-Davidson , and Worth Harley-Davidson . There were about 3,500 registered participants.
The Sunday, September 18, RIDE began and ended in the infield at Kansas Speedway, the host facility for the past 11 years. The NASCAR garages were filled with vendor booths and provided temporary shelter from the rain that fell on and off throughout the day. Every year, a fence across the infield area is transformed into the Baby Boulevard, a collection of photos of babies born prematurely compared with “look at me now” photos. Each child’s display indicated his or her birth weight and period of gestation. It is always heartwarming to see how these tiny infants were able to overcome birth problems and mature to become normal, healthy children. Many of the displays were dedicated to infants who did not survive, a moving reminder that there is still much work to be done and advances in infant care to be accomplished.
The opening ceremony began at 9:15 with the presentation of the Colors by the Kansas City, Kansas, Police Department Honor Guard, the singing of the National Anthem by Maggie Marx, and a prayer and blessing of the bikes by Reverend Melissa Brooks. Karli Ritter of the Fox 4 weather team served as emcee for the fifth consecutive year. Event co-chairmen Penny Sharp and Don Post were on stage to welcome participants as was long-time honorary chairman Johnny Dare. The ambassador family was introduced, and Bridget expressed their thanks on behalf of the March of Dimes to all the participants.
Every year, the top fund raiser for the Kansas City event and nationally is Ed Hale. Ed and his Posse were able to collect around $75,000 for Bikers of Babies® this year accomplishing their goal of surpassing the $500,000 mark over a 10-year period. Ed was on stage to present the barrel of cash and several jars of coins. He can be recognized anywhere he rides, since he has the March of Dimes logo painted on this motorcycle’s gas tank. Congratulations and thanks to Ed and the Posse for their tireless efforts throughout the year on behalf of this great charity.
Rain was falling as the ceremony concluded and the RIDE began. Motorcycles of all brands participated, cheered on again this year by the Avila cheerleading squad. Also present were several families who held signs expressing appreciation for the Bikers for Babies® support. Missing this year was the giant American flag that is normally suspended between two Kansas City, Kansas, Fire Department ladder trucks. With the presence of stormy weather, the lightning risk posed too great a safety concern to permit the display. Patriotism was still very much in evidence due to many smaller flags placed along the exit route by members of the American Legion Riders Post #19 from Gardner, Kansas.
When the riders returned to the speedway, lunch was available courtesy of Price Chopper. Rocker Lips and Vantage Point provided musical entertainment for the day. Award winners in the ride-in bike show sponsored by Gail’s Harley-Davidson included the following:
Best of Show
Kate West – 01 FLHTCU
1st – Kate West – 01 FLHTCU
2nd – Dena Ory – 07 FLHTCU
1st – Ken Robson – 04 FLSTC
2nd – Mike Shope – 08 Dyna
1st – Chris Smith -- 05 FLSTF
1st – Stacy Mitts – 02 Special Construction
2nd – Brian Ewert – 08 V-Rod
1st – Cliff Dubroc – 08 FLHX
2nd – Bill Bennett – 05 FLHTCU
1st – Tim Gillam – 03 Sporty
2nd – Stan Warner – 05 Big Inch
1st – Jason Farr – 47 Panhead
1st – Don Guffey – 08 FLHRC Hurst
2nd – Cindy Koger – 08 Spider
1st – Bill James – 04 Honda 1300 VTX
2nd – Ron Dykes – 10 Honda Fury
1st – Robert Moffett – 99 Yamaha Road Star
2nd – Roger O’Dell – 02 Suzuki Intruder
Another unfortunate cancellation due to the wet pavement was a stunt show by Crazy Dan Jackson. He is truly one of the best, and it was disappointing the rain prevented his performance. Hopefully, he will be back for the 2012 event.
For 11 consecutive years, Worth Harley-Davidson has donated a new Harley to be given away at Bikers for Babies®. Participants receive an entry for each $100 in donations they bring in. The drawing for the bike is always the climax of the closing ceremony. Congratulations go to Jeff Buckley, winner of a beautiful 2012 Harley-Davidson Heritage Softail® Classic. Jeff has been a participant in the event for four years and was a Grand Donor for the first time this year. Jeff didn’t plan to stay for the drawing, but his granddaughter persuaded him to wait and see if one of his ten tickets was drawn. As a result, he was there to hear his name announced and claim his new motorcycle.
Thanks go out to all of the sponsors, volunteers, and participants. Much more information about the event can be found on the Bikers for Babies® website and on Facebook.
Cycle Connections thanks our friend Blake from Prodigal Son Coating for helping out at our booth, and we appreciate all who stopped by during the event.
Article and photos by Stripe