By Rob Casalou
Regional President & CEO, SJMHS
Captain of Team Joe’s cycling
It’s hard to describe the feeling when your alarm goes off once again at 4 a.m. It’s dark. You’re sore. The mere thought of getting on your saddle actually causes physical pain.
Somehow, all the riders pull themselves together, get their gear on and head to DeWitt High School via shuttle buses to begin a last day. Then, you get to the school and you see all your fellow riders eating breakfast, preparing their bikes, giving words of encouragement, sharing a few hugs, and then the excitement begins to build… Today, we we get to cross that finish line and ride home.
As usual, many riders get on the road right at 6 a.m. That was the case for many Team Joe’s riders because our goal was to get to the MIS Speedway and meet up with each other and our WAM 50 teammates at 2 p.m. so that we can ride the last couple miles together to the finish line. Given many of our riders ride at different speeds, part of the planning is to leave DeWitt at a time that will put you at MIS close to 2 p.m. So our fast riders leave late and our slower riders leave early. It always seems to work out.
Now, for my riding group still consisting of Russ Olmsted, Lee Benjamin, Greg Hodder and Wish Dad Bob, we were targeting to get out on the road between 6:15 and 6:30. That was, of course, until Greg overslept and we hit the road at 6:40. You can rest assured we teased him a lot as he rushed off the bus to get ready to go. It was all good and we made up the time no problem. In fact, Day 3 is actually the easiest ride of the three days. I think it’s a combination of heading mostly south for the day so we had some favorable winds and the energy of knowing it’s our last day.
Tim and Sheila once again rode with David Williams and they got an early start. As I checked on our team throughout the day, it was all coming together that we would meet up right around 2 p.m. as planned. At least most of us. We had a couple teammates who couldn’t be there close to 2 p.m. including Tim, Shelia and David Williams. But we would ride to the finish and then wait for them and a couple others to arrive closer to 3 p.m.
Overall, the day was filled with a lot of joy at the break stops and along the route. Riders laughing, joking and encouraging one another was pretty much the norm throughout the ride but especially today. If a rider was struggling, there was always a rider willing to help them. I marvel how many riders are already committing to next year’s ride while not even done with this one!
So let me wrap up by talking about the finish, called the Heroes Hurrah, that has a couple thousand friends, family, volunteers and wish families waiting anxiously at the finish line at MIS to welcome riders home. It is very emotional and brings the entire mission of our ride to reality. As Team Joe’s gathered at our meeting spot just outside MIS, excitement and relief were very apparent. We hugged and congratulated each other and connected with our WAM 50 teammates. And a lot of our conversation was already about next year.
We then got back on our bikes to slowly ride the last couple miles as a team first stopping at the Silent Mile which is actually a greenspace of about 100 yards filled with stars bearing names and/or pictures of loved ones who were being honored by riders. As we approached, all was quiet and a few of us got off our bikes to find our stars. Rosalie Tocco-Bradley rode in honor of her late sister and brother-in-law. I rode in honor of Bill Fileti who we lost this past April. We picked up their stars and we rode them in hand for the rest of ride to finish line.
Before getting to the finish line, we rode almost entire lap on the MIS Speedway track (staying low because road tires do not like steep embankments) and then heading to the finish just outside the main grandstand. We crossed as a team to loud cheers and music. It is a moment that none of us will ever forget.
After the rest of our team arrived around 3 p.m., we went to the Heroes tent to meet the wish child we rode for, Jaxon C., who was waiting there to meet us and give us our individual medals. Jaxon is a very cute 8 year-old and has his face painted like a dog. His wish was to go to Disney World and we met his parents who were so appreciative of the wish and all that has been done for them.
After the medal ceremony, the team started to disperse with many heading to their cars to get home for showers, dinner and a well-deserved sleep. But they left high in spirits and already planning on next year and who to recruit. For me, I had one last unexpected special moment. Our new-found friend, Wish Dad Bob, found me and told me how much this experience changed his life and that it was a healing experience as he grieves the loss of his son, Cameron. After I cleared the lump in my throat I simply thanked him for sharing a special part of his life with us and that even though I did not get meet Cameron, I felt like I got to know him over the past three days. I know Bob will be back next year and I cannot wait to see him again.
As I close this, I want to thank a great group of dedicated and caring people called Team Joe’s. We had fun, we made great friendships and we enjoyed three beautiful days of weather on open roads. We raised enough money to grant over 22 wishes to Michigan children this coming year just by ourselves. I know that 300 or even 50 miles on a bike sounds daunting but I believe in the saying that the body can achieve what the mind believes. I saw riders of all calibers on the WAM 300 and I am confident that, if anyone wants to ride 300 or 50, they can do it and you will have all of us as supporters. So let me know if you want to learn more!
Until next year…..thanks for all you did as donors and supporters to make this a great WAM.