Over $95,000 donated to St. Jude by Wings Across Tennessee

By Lesley Hughes
star staff
lhughes@starhq.com

  Tennessee members of the Gold Wing Road Riders' Association made their annual 500-mile ride to make donations to St. Jude Children's' Research Hospital in Memphis on Sept. 18.
  The trip marked the ninth time that motorcycle riders throughout Tennessee participated in the Wings Across Tennessee event. Rider's spirits were not dampened by the severe weather that Hurricane Ivan brought into the region, but, unfortunately, many riders who planned to make the trip backed out or opted to take a four-wheel vehicle with doors and a roof. The appeal of wind in the face isn't as great when rain and tropical depression wind speeds mix.
  Only three bikes and a dozen cars, from the Northeast Tennessee Chapter C, started the journey in Bristol on Friday morning in hopes of joining other chapters along the route. Fortunately, once the group reached Knoxville on Friday afternoon, the weather subsided, allowing a more pleasant and drier ride.
  Tennessee District Photographer Jerry Childers said, "The rain was heavy and it was windy but we made it. The rain stopped when we got to Knoxville and we had good weather after that. We were welcomed by Tennessee Chapters in Knoxville with pizza, cookies, and drinks. By the time we finished lunch the rain had stopped."
  After a food stop at Uncle Pete's Truck Stop in Lebanon, the group rode to Nashville to rest for the night. "Saturday morning was beautiful. The weather forecast was for a sunny and warm day, so off we went to our stop in Jackson to pick up the last chapter members before going on to St. Jude Children's' Research Hospital in Memphis," Childers said.
  Chapters across the state contributed $95,866 to the hospital, over $10,000 more than what was donated last year. Since some chapters could not make the trip and were expected to mail in contributions, Childers expected the total donations to reach $100,000.
  "There was also 54 handmade quilts given, 615 ball hats, and over $4,000 beanie babies given to the children," he added.
  Wings Across Tennessee is the effort of the Tennessee GoldWing Road Riders Association Chapters doing benefits throughout the year to get donations for St. Jude Children's Research Hospital. Some of the benefits the chapters do are poker runs, bike shows, golf tournaments and even pace laps at Bristol Motor Speedway.
  In 2003, the event raised $85,000 for the hospital. Chapter C started the event in 1996 with only a $5,000 donation. The charity ride has now spread across the entire state and even has a southern Tennessee route that meets the Northeast riders along the way.
  During the stop in Jackson, the group met a local three-year-old girl, Samantha Lowery, who is a St. Jude patient battling Leukemia. She received her first treatments in Memphis, but is now well enough to visit the Jackson hospital for out-patient treatments.
  Chapter C Directors Butch and Chris Adkins had hoped to see one of their favorite former patients on Saturday. Katelyn, 16, was a patient at St. Jude for more than 10 years of her life.
  "She has gone through numerous operations. She has been through numerous rare diseases," Chris 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."
  Unfortunately, Katelyn was sick on Saturday with the flu and couldn't make the trip to Memphis to visit with her old friends, but she did send word that she promised to be there next year. Chris had brought a huge stuffed alligator for Katelyn, a Florida 'Gators fan, but will save the animal until next year.
  Tom Jarrell, Tennessee District Director, and Jerry and Leisa Childers, Tennessee District Photographers, got to visit with four-year-old Tyler Emert and his parents, Roy and Robin, of Jonesborough. The Emerts were very surprised to see local riders in Memphis, and Tyler was pleased with the handmade quilt made especially for him. Tyler is currently battling Leukemia and is doing well with his treatments. Doctors expect him to come home in October to finish his treatments as an outpatient. Tyler promised he would see the riders again next year when he races his motocross motorcycle at the Appalachian Fair in Gray.