Wings Across Tennessee makes donation ride to St. Jude Hospital

By Lesley Hughes
star staff
lhughes@starhq.com

  Rain, wind and the threat of horrific weather won't stop the United States Postal Service from delivering so why should the remains of Hurricane Ivan stop a group of motorcycle riders from delivering an important package of donations?
  The annual Wings Across Tennessee motorcycle ride left the Tri-Cities area at 10 a.m. Friday. Despite a sprinkling of rain as the three Goldwings departed from Atlas Honda in Bristol, Tenn., the spirits of the bike riders and a few more that elected to ride in automobiles were not dampened.
  Last year more than a dozen motorcycles began the 500-mile journey to St. Jude Children's Research Hospital in Memphis. Although there were only a handful of riders at the beginning, the group will meet plenty more along the two-day trip.
  "We start here in Bristol. Then we go all the way to Nashville and spend the night, get up the next morning and go to Memphis to make our donation," said Chapter C Director Chris Adkins.
  More than 200 bikes gathered at St. Jude Children's Research Hospital to make donations in 2003. Each Gold Wing Road Riders Association chapter in Tennessee holds events in their area to gather donations for the hospital.
  Chapter C, in Northeast Tennessee, began the Wings Across Tennessee event in 1996, with only five couples riding to Memphis with $5,000 in donations. Eight years later the event gained statewide recognition, with $86,000 donated in 2003 from all the Tennessee chapters.
  Chris and her husband, Butch, decided to make the trip in their Sport Utility Vehicle for weather and donation hauling reasons. The Adkins' GMC Envoy and another van were packed to the brim with more than just monetary donations. Handmade quilts, blankets, hats, shirts and even a five-foot-long stuffed alligator were ready to be given to the patients.
  "The only thing that is the hardest this year is going in the car instead of on the bikes. Because the kids, once you get down there, they love the bikes. They want to come out and sit on them and some get to go for a ride," said Chris.
  The gator and a Harley-Davidson hat already had one former patient's name on them. Chris said all riders have gotten to know a special patient that is near and dear to all their hearts.
  "Katelyn is 16 years old and she has been a patient of St. Jude's since she was probably six years old or younger. She has gone through numerous operations. She has been through numerous rare diseases."
  She added, "Some of her diseases were never even heard of until she developed it. She was blind for a year and was in a coma for 18 months. She has overcome all these obstacles. One year she came and she was on crutches. This year she will be there without her crutches. She wears glasses, but she has just got the best personality.
  "She and her mother are so strong. They have overcome everything and her attitude is so great. She is in regular high school now and she is just an inspiration to us all.
  "She has never been depressed about it. Whatever comes her way she just hits it head on. She is just an inspiration," Chris said.
  They met Katelyn during one of the trips after asking to meet some of the patients. "She and her mother came and told us her whole history. After that we all fell in love with her. After that there wasn't a dry eye in the place," Chris recalled.
  Katelyn is now free of cancer, but was asked to come back to St. Jude's to see her old motorcycle friends when they arrive in Memphis.
  Another patient they plan on visiting is from Jonesborough. Tyler Emert is currently battling Leukemia. The chapter found out about Emert from an e-mail, which added the 4-year-old races motocross bikes.
  "We are going to try to look him up. I don't know if they will let us all go up to his room, but maybe his parents can come down and see us," Chris said in a hopeful tone.
  Chapter C has close to $20,000 to donate to the hospital and bag loads of toys and quilts for the children. The total donation from all the other Chapters will be revealed when they arrive at the hospital.
   Editor's note: Chapter C will be heading back to Northeast Tennessee on Saturday and Sunday. A follow-up story will be in the Elizabethton Star early in the week.