Sunday, February 27, 2011

Born To Be Wild

Get your motor running'

Head out on the highway

Looking' for adventure

And whatever comes our way

Yeah! darling', gonna make it happen

Take the world in a love embrace

Fire all of your guns at once

And explode into space

Born to be wild

Born to be wild

When it comes to being cool, I used to think I fell somewhere between Richie Cunningham and Ralph Malph.  Sure, Richie was not the coolest guy on the TV show Happy Days because of his all American, Howdy Doody face and need to always be nice, but I had to be honest with myself.  I recognized long ago that I would never be Fonzie cool, but at least I knew I would never be mistaken for Potsie.  That was until I stood in front of a group of men and women motorcycle riders at Smaltz's Harley Davidson. 

Over the past 23 years the MDA has teamed up with Harley Davidson to raise millions of dollars through the Ride for Life campaign.  The campaign starts at the local dealerships by building awareness and slowly grows to a two-day event where thousands of motorcycle riders from the Northeast meet in Reading, PA to celebrate two days of fundraising, Harleys, and whatever else those guys who look and act like Fonzie do.

A few weeks ago Maddie and Emma were asked by the local MDA chapter to be their Ambassadors for the event.  This involved visiting a couple local Harley Davidson dealerships, talking with riders about their condition, the importance of the ride, and eventually spending two days in Reading celebrating the event.  When I first found out, I was excited for them (and me).  Here was another great opportunity for them to speak on behalf of those with Pompe and muscular dystrophy, have a little fun, and perhaps get a tattoo (that was a joke).  For me, I saw it as an opportunity to increase my cool quotient above Richie status and perhaps sneak in a ride or two.  Unfortunately, they will not be able to attend due to other obligations so I quickly filed it away in the maybe next year folder.  Then, the door re-opened.

A couple Fridays ago we got a phone call from the MDA office asking if we could squeeze in a visit to the local Harley dealership because the little guy who planned to be there was ill.  I quickly checked schedules and found that Emma was available.  I tried to be cool and say, "Sure, we can," mentioning that Emma always likes to help and that Donna and I would pop in for a few, but I think they could hear my excitement.  When Richie wanted to be cool, he always overdid it.

When we arrived at Smaltz's Harley Davidson, one of the local MDA reps (Ben) explained what Ride for Life was, how important it was for the MDA, how generous the Harley Davidson community has been, and that he needed one of us to talk to the riders before the dealership's monthly meeting.  None of us were prepared to speak, thinking that we were just going to stand around and greet individual riders, but we said we would be pleased to help.  Since I am usually the one talking I thought it would be great for Donna or Emma to speak, but when he asked for a volunteer to step forward, my family took a step back.

After years of speaking in front of groups I've learned that it's important to both know your audience and be prepared.  In this case I was neither, but before I walked up to the group I told myself to be confident.  After all, I know a guy who owns a Harley.  However, as soon as I stood there in front of the group clad in black leather, two things came to mind.  First, they were definitely looking at yours truly wearing my gingham button-down shirt, J Crew jeans, and responsible loafers thinking, "What's with Potsie?”  Second, I realized the only black leather I had on me was a money clip.  I was out-numbered, mumbling, and feeling very un-cool.

I just started to talk and hoped for the best.  I explained what Pompe is, how it affects our girls, how important the Ride for Life event will be for families facing muscular dystrophy, and how much we appreciate everyone's dedication to this cause.  I then threw in a joke about my knowledge of motorcycles (not much) and how Emma wants me to buy her one.  That seemed to win them over, at least to Emma's camp.  At the end several of them thanked us for coming and sharing our story.  Even more stopped to tell Emma about all the different bikes she could buy and that (despite her un-cool dad) she could and will be a Harley rider someday.

One great thing about being involved with these events is that you get to meet amazing people you may not meet otherwise and see their hearts open for good causes around them.  Sometimes it is too easy to place people into boxes based on what they wear, how they look, or what type of motorcycle they ride.  As you dig deeper you come to realize that despite outward appearances, most people are just like you.  They believe in family, they believe in friendship, and they believe in helping others wherever they can.   

On the way out, I stopped with Emma to check out a few bikes and talk about how cool it might be to buy a black leather jacket, grow a ponytail, and take on the open road.  Then I came back to reality and realized it would be safer if Richie and I stuck to four wheels and four doors.  Emma on the other hand has a bit more cool in her, from mom's side of the family.  I guess I'd better be nice to her for a few more years because perhaps one day she will buy that leather jacket, that Harley, and take me on a future Ride for Life.  I hope she's not too embarrassed when I sit on the back and sing ... Born to be wild!

Thanks to all my fellow HOG riders,

Credit to: Steppenwolf, "Born To Be Wild"