LA CROSSE, WISC., JULY 27–How do you keep a fundraiser going for 11 years? You put John Haverty in charge of it. John brings a personal touch to the Thunder Ride to Cure Diabetes. He and his wife, Barb, know what expenses a family of a diabetic child incurs and the stress they go through. John has a son who has had juvenile diabetes since he was 22 months old. The Thunder Ride to Cure Diabetes organization has been on a mission to help those who can’t afford the expenses that come along with diabetic children. Thunder Ride helps families in the La Crosse area with their juvenile diabetes up to age 21 through grant programs at the local hospitals.
This year was as good a year as ever. The ride had been planned to cover around 130 miles of the scenic Coulee Region, and the weather made some twists and turns just like the route did. Early on at the La Crosse Area Harley-Davidson parking lot it looked like few would show up, but by the time the ride was ready to leave there were around 600 riders anxiously waiting to take off. At each stop you drop your ticket in a box that is collected for the party at the end of the ride. Tickets are drawn and prizes from sponsors are awarded. You also get a meal ticket for the end-of-ride party that is donated as well.
The route started at La Crosse Area Harley-Davidson (they have been a great sponsor from the beginning) and weaved itself through the Coulee Region. The first leg went through the Mindoro Cut, famous for its curves and the fact that it is the second-deepest hand-excavated passage in the country. The ride then proceeded to the Fox Hole Pub in Sparta, Wisconsin. From there riders went to Burnstad’s European Restaurant in Tomah for some lunch. After a quick bite to eat, the ride twisted and turned its way to Cashton for a gas stop at the Central Express. From there you still had more curves to make to Charlie’s Inn just south of La Crosse. The last stretch to the Oktoberfest Grounds in La Crosse was only exciting if you timed your departure wrong and got caught in the short spate of rain.
Back at the ’Fest Grounds the party started and the fun began with the band Tunnel Vision laying down some tunes for everyone. Volunteers helped by selling raffle tickets for the 2013 Sportster to be given away that day. Tickets were also being sold for other forms of raffles and drawings while even more people helped by attending the giant silent auction of donated items ranging from framed pictures to tattoo sessions. And there were some great items that were on the regular auction block including packages to go see the Milwaukee Brewers and Green Bay Packers, and a smart TV, just to name a few. While many people got excited when the bidding opened up for a chance to race a Nascar stock car, they got even more perked up when the bidding started for a chance to drive a full-sized Army tank. Talk about adults behaving like children and spouses grabbing their significant others arms out of the air!
As usual, John Haverty had a guest speaker talk about what juvenile diabetes means to them. This year Jessica Hach and her husband Jesse were onstage sharing the experiences they have raising a young child that deals with diabetes daily. When you hear about not knowing if a child will make it through the night, it brings a tear to your eye. Hearing people share their reasons for helping this event will also bring a tear to your eye.
I had the opportunity to speak with some of the attendees, each with their own reasons for participating in the Thunder Ride. Kevin Kadrmas commented, “I think what makes the Thunder Ride great is you have 600 bikers that are there and it doesn’t have anything to do with motorcycles.” Michael S. Hagen said, “Being one who has participated on this ride from the beginning, it has been great to see it grow and expand into what it has become—a great cause of raising money for the number one reason: the unfortunate kids living with juvenile diabetes. I’ll keep riding this ride till a cure is found, God willing.”
Lisa Halverson shared, “My daughter was diagnosed with Type 1 in 2004 and we have known John Haverty since 2006. This was the eighth year that my daughter has been on the poster and we have volunteered our time to help at the after-ride party. In May 2011 my daughter suffered a seizure due to low blood sugar. I had to administer an emergency glucagon injection that saved her life. Without this ride and the generosity of everyone involved I may not have had that emergency glucagon kit in my house. The Thunder Ride helps me pay the co-pays for all her diabetic supplies. I’m truly impressed with John and Barb for organizing such an amazing event, and for all the riders who take time out of their busy lives to help our Coulee Region kids. We will always be grateful that we have had the opportunity to know such wonderful people.”
Royce Leonardson said, “I am Barb Haverty’s uncle from Georgia. John is my nephew-in-law. I love what the Thunder Ride team has done over the years. I don’t get to come up often enough for various reasons, but my wife and I drove 2,900 miles round-trip from Georgia to Ohio to Michigan to Illinois and Wisconsin and Minnesota. That was our ride. I don’t ride motorcycles, but I come to support the event. You see, I lost my 20-year-old son to JD 19 years ago and also my 36-year-old daughter five years ago to the same. So I see the Thunder Ride as a means that others don’t have to feel what I had to go through twice. John and the team are awesome and I totally support them. Makes my heart feel so good what with all the support others will receive as a result of lots of hard work.”
As was evident from the folks I spoke with, the Thunder Ride is not just about a motorcycle ride. It is about people coming together for a better world. The ride’s mission is, “We ride for the day when diabetes is no longer the reason why.” While the organization may not be able to cure juvenile diabetes, they can make a difference in the people’s lives that have to deal with it daily. John keeps most of the money local for use by those that need it, but also donates some of it to research as a means of someday ending juvenile diabetes. This year’s donations will reach $100,000 or more as donations are still coming in.
The Thunder Ride is always the last Saturday in July for those that want to attend the 2014 event (www.thunderride.org).