Bringing it Home: Final Thoughts from the WAM Ride

IMG_6741By 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.

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Rob dedicated his ride to the late Bill Fileti, founder of IHA.

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.

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Team Joe’s rode in honor of Wish Child Jaxon. He placed medals around Rob’s neck and every rider of our team.

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.

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Jaxon with the entire team from Saint Joseph Mercy Health System.

 

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30th WAM a record-setter for wishes

The 30th edition of the annual Wish a Mile bike ride through Michigan raised a record $2.3 million to help grant wishes for children. A total of 46 riders representing “Team Joe’s” from Saint Joseph Mercy Health System joined 1,200 riders and more than 300 volunteers to make this a special and successful weekend!

The WAM 300 started in Traverse City on July 27. From there, cyclists rode about 100 miles each day, crossing the finish line at Michigan International Speedway (MIS). The WAM 50 is a one-day looped ride that joins the 300 route for the last few miles. Both rides travel through a special designated area named the Silent Mile; to honor loved ones lost too soon but never forgotten. Crossing the finish line, riders are greeted by hundreds of cheering fans and families of wish kids.

Follow each stage of the ride –
Riders fuel up for 300 mile WAM (July 27)
Team Joe’s ready to roll at first light (July 28)
Wrapping up stage two of WAM (July 29)

Team Joe’s Wraps Up Stage 2 of Wish a Mile

Team Joe’s wound through another 100 miles of Michigan countryside to their rest stop. Rob shared thoughts from the road and the annual WHAMMY event:

Stage 2 started early with 4am wake up calls, breakfast by 5:30 a.m. and bikes on the road as early as 6:00.  Getting out of bed in the morning and going out in the dark with a 50 degree temp is not easy but it wears off quickly once the sun is up and the blood is pumping.    Today was the long day – 110 miles.  For riding, many Team Joe’s members split up into groups of like riders.  For me, I have had the pleasure of riding with Russ Olmsted, Lee Benjamin and Greg Hodder along with Wish Dad Bob who joined us for a second day.  What an amazing person.  He believes that he is healing being part of WAM and we made special mention of his late son, Cameron, at the awards program this evening.  Hearing Bob and his son’s story grounds us as to why we ride.

We also had the special treat of being joined on Day 2 by David Williams, CEO of Make-A-Wish America, who decided to join us to celebrate the 30th anniversary of WAM.  David is in good shape but not an experienced cyclist so we all wondered how this would go.  He joined Team Joe’s and we took good care of him.  Sheila Marcus and Tim Mervak stayed with David all day to make sure he had company.  He rode all 110 miles and he got to meet many riders, wish kids and wish parents along the way.  I could tell he was glad he made the decision to come by the end of the day.  Now, I do wonder how he will feel in the morning with another 98 miles to go… J

The first 48 miles today was fast.  We headed mostly south out of Big Rapids towards Greenville and we were booking some excellent speeds.  After lunch, that was a different story.  The winds picked up strong out of the north and northeast.  We loved it when we heading south and died when we headed east so we took on those winds all afternoon.  To say the least we couldn’t wait for it all to end!  It did we all headed to our hotels to clean up and get back for the Wammy Award Program which is a highlight of the weekend.

The Wammy Awards are held in the auditorium of DeWitt High School and it is a packed house of all the riders, volunteers, staff, wish kids and wish parents who came out for the event.  We hear wish stories, honor children and their families and we also granted a wish on stage!  A young boy, Harrison, who has many medical and physical challenges, wanted to be able to ride a bike with his parents.  Through the magic of Make-A-Wish and some awesome cycling shops, they constructed an adaptive bike that will allow Harrison to ride and stay safe and comfortable.  He and his family were presented the bike at the Wammy’s.  The Wammy’s were MC’d by a wish kid, Shawn, who had a wish to meet Jamie Diamond, CEO of Chase.  Shawn was awesome and is an incoming freshman at UM in the Ross School of Business.

The night was filled with celebration and there were many awards given out to riders, teams and volunteers.  We also recognized some supporters like the state troopers who stayed with us through the entire weekend, the American Red Cross Medics, Bike Mechanics, massage therapists and all the volunteers who staffed the schools, support and guidance vehicles (SAG) and the break stops.  It was special for me personally that my daughter Julie volunteered once again on the school crew after taking a year off to ride the WAM with me last year.

Team Joe’s won the fundraising award for Large-sized teams and raised over $134,000 for Make-A-Wish.  That was done through the generosity of all the family, friends and colleagues who supported us so…thank you!!  And, we announced a record-setting grand total for WAM at $2,401,000!   That is incredible and will go towards granting many wishes this coming year to Michigan children.  This night puts the mission right in front of us and reminds us why we do this.  As I sat there, I was reminded on how our own mission of being a transforming and healing presence in our communities completely supports what Make-A-Wish does for children and families.  The Team Joe’s riders were definitely a transforming presence for WAM and for those who Make-A-Wish serves.  I am so proud of our riders and for all 800 plus riders who are on this journey with us.

Ok, time to get ready for our last day tomorrow.  We ride into MIS after our last 98 miles (making this a 307 mile tour just to be precise).  But our sore bodies will be carried through by the excitement and emotion we know awaits us.  Goodnight.


Wish Dad Bob, Russ,
Greg Hodder, Rob, and Lee Benjamin pose in front of the Ferris State Bulldog after finishing Day 1


Wish Dad Bob and Scott Dornbrock enjoy a rest at a break stop.


ER physicians Lee Benjamin and Greg Hodder know how to relax after a long ride!


Rob wears Snapchat glasses to catch more ride pics. Go to Make A Wish Michigan to see posts!


The scene at the mid-morning lunch stop.


David Steinberg, Chris, Jody and nick and Bethany Steinberg pause for a pic before hitting the road again.

At First Light Team Joe’s Ready to Roll Through First 100 Miles of WAM300

SJMHS President and CEO Rob Casalou blogs about Team Joe’s experience in the 2017 Wish a Mile bike ride, a 300-mile, three-day journey across the state to grant wishes for Michigan children.

Stage 1 – Friday, July 28th

The ride to Ferris State and Big Rapids is 99.1 miles and it’s ALL hills. Hills are a beautiful attraction to northern Michigan but they can burn the legs!

Team Joe’s took a sendoff picture at 6:15 a.m. and then hit the road.  We broke up into smaller groups depending on how fast or how slow individuals wanted to go.  For me, I was so delighted to join up with Russ Olmsted, Gred Hodder, MD and Lee Benjamin, MD.  I felt very well protected having two ER docs in my riding group.

Along the way, we had a special moment when we came upon a single rider who was riding well but alone.  On the back of the shirt was a picture of a teenage boy with a note that said “In memory of Cameron, I love you more.”  I asked the man, “who is Cameron” and then he proceeded to tell me how they lost Cameron to leukemia a year ago and he was out riding to honor his son and also to give back.  Cameron had a wish granted and that wish was to have a makeover for his Mom & Dad’s room.  That’s right, he didn’t ask for anything for himself.  And this is not unusual for wish kids.  They are some of the most unselfish people you will ever meet.  Cameron was one of them.  So, right then and there, we invited this wish Dad (name is Bob) to ride with us which he did all day!  He told the Make-A-Wish staff that he felt he was in the right place being there.  We plan to see him again tomorrow.

The weather was perfect all day and we made great time for the first half of the ride.  We made it too the lunch stop at 9 a.m.  That is a little early to eat lunch but the PB & J was too good to pass up. The route was all hills which we expected.  Tomorrow will be longer but flater.

It was a very clean first day with no reported injuries or problems.  That is incredible given the size and scope of this event.

Our small group of five or six riders finished at just before 2 p.m.  Not bad!  But then we heard the Probility team (part of Team Joe’s) coming in at 12:30 p.m. WHAT?  Are you kidding me?!

Overall, a great day was reported by all Team Joe’s.  That is what matters most.  Great first day team.

The Probility gang along with Dr. Geiger getting ready to hit it hard.

Russ Olmsted shows off his pretty shoes.
Greg Hodder, Russ Olmsted, Rob Casalou and Lee Benjamin were joined by Wish Dad Bob and Wish Kid Casey at the lunch stop. By the way, lunch was at 9:00am at mile 44!

Team Joe’s Riders Fuel Up for 300 Mile WAM

Team Joe’s is once again participating in the 2017 Wish a Mile three-day journey to grant wishes for kids. Throughout the trek, riders and team captain and CEO Rob Casalou will be posting pics and sharing journal entries on this blog.  If you want to support Team Joe’s ride to grant more wishes, please click on WAM Team Joe’s.

Here is Rob’s first entry from “travel day,” when riders board buses to the starting line in Traverse City.

Day 1 – Thursday, July 27th

Team Joe’s assembled 37 riders for the WAM 300 and 9 for the WAM 50.  We have many repeat riders but also a few rookies.  Most of the 37 decided to take the buses from MIS Speedway where the Wish-A-Mile tour ends up to Traverse City where the event begins on Friday morning.  Some of our riders decided to check-in up in Traverse City.  It is always fun to see the excitement on the faces of our new and veteran riders because.  This is a special event that will bring us close with wish children and wish families who are those we ride to support.

The Make-A-Wish teams do an awesome job of managing registration, check-in, wrapping and storing bikes on trucks, lining up very large and comfortable coach buses and we begin our travels to Traverse City at 10 a.m. sharp.  The ride up is fun and it gives us time to talk about what to expect, things to know and talk about rider safety.  The WAM is not only a special event for who we support but it is also the safest event I have participated.  In addition to multiple SAG vehicles and Red Cross emergency vehicles, we have 4 Michigan State Troopers on motorcycles that escort us all three days.  How awesome is that?!!

After a lunch stop at the Clare Rest Area, we head into Traverse City and to the East Traverse Middle School where we set up for the night.  We rolled into the school at 3pm and then the preparation began.  First, setting up the bike is important and giving it a home along a fence or wall for the evening.  All our bikes were shipped up ahead of us so they were waiting when we arrived.   Then, it is time to head to the hotels on a shuttle bus so we could check-in and get back to the school for a great dinner (need carbs the night before).

The staff put on a great ice cream social and have live music with keyboard played by a former wish child.  It was great.  Then it was off to bed because alarms are set for 4 a.m.  … I get tired just thinking about that!

 

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Clare Rest stop when 800 riders descend upon it for our lunch stop.
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Rob Casalou with his wife Kristin and some new members of Team Joe’s.

Join Team Joe’s for the 2017 Wish-a-Mile Bike Tour

“We ride for the kids.” – Rob Casalou

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Team Joe’s is back and ready to ride.  The cycling group led by SJMHS President and CEO Rob Casalou will be traversing miles of Michigan countryside in the 30th edition of the 2017 Wish a Mile from July 27-30.

All SJMHS employees, physicians, family members and friends are invited to join Team Joe’s WAM team as they ride to grant wishes to Michigan kids with life-threatening medical conditions.

Visit the Team Joe’s WAM page to register or support the team in other ways.  There are two ways to participate:

WAM 300 – July 27-30. A three day, 300-mile tour starting in Traverse City and ending at MIS Speedway, Brooklyn, Mich.

WAM 50 – Sunday, July 30.  Registered riders meet up with Team Joe’s on the third and last day, and bike the final 50 miles together into Michigan International Speedway, Brooklyn, Mich.

“If you are intrigued by this event and Team Joe’s, please consider joining us,” Casalou said.  “Just let me know of your interest and I will fill you in on everything you need to know and then you can decide.  I promise you that you will never regret climbing on board.” (comment to this post and Rob will respond.)

Casalou and the team will be posting summaries, pics and live video during their three-day journey.  Follow the action at www.stjoeshealthblog.org and on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Wrapping Up the 2016 WAM

 

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62 members of Team Joe’s gathers around three Wish Heroes at the finish line of the Michigan Wish a Mile (WAM) on July 31, 2016.  Team Joe’s raised $112,000 to help make wishes come true.

By Rob Casalou
Regional President and CEO
Saint Joseph Mercy Health System

When that alarm clock goes off at 4:15 a.m. on the third and final day of riding, I am sure I’m not alone of the thought that came to mind… “No way”!

First, that is early on any day but after logging 210  miles of riding over the previous two days, the muscles are a bit more sore and the body needs a little more encouragement to get out of bed.  But we all did get up, put on the last day riding clothes and make our way to breakfast at Dewitt High School.  It is dark, a little cool but as the school starts to come to life and as we all realize this is our last day and the great celebration and accomplishment that awaits us at the end, the blood starts pumping again.

Day three is the shortest ride of the three days at just over 95 miles to the finish line at MIS.  It is also our flattest course so that is welcome as well.  The weather forecast was variable with the famous weather prediction of a 50% chance of storms anywhere.  I joked with many of my teammates that the most secure job in America is a weather forecaster because what other profession can you make a 50% prediction of something and keep your job?!  Well, the 50% chance of no rain was what we experienced and we were grateful for that!

We communicated to our 300-mile riders and our Team Joe’s 50-mile riders who would be riding in the vicinity of MIS on Sunday morning, that we would meet up in the MIS parking lot at 2 p.m. so that we could ride into the MIS as a team and cross the finish line together.  With so many riders of different speeds, many of our 300-mile team left Dewitt right at 6 a.m. and some of our fast Tour de France types left a bit later so that we would all arrive at the same time.

It worked out beautifully as we all gathered at the last break-stop about 10 miles from MIS at the same time and we rode the last 10 miles together to our meeting spot and joined our Team Joe’s 50 milers who were waiting for us.  It was awesome to come together and then I realized just how big our team had grown – 62 cyclists all n one place for the first time.  We spent several minutes celebrating with a lot of hugs, high-fives and just pure joy.

Before I talk about the final mile into MIS and the Heroes Hurrah celebration, I want to quickly back up to a couple highlights of the day.  First, this was a very safe ride over the three days because we are well-protected by our state trooper escorts, medics, firemen and American Red Cross staff in addition to hundreds of volunteers and some very courteous and helpful riders.  Every so often, as you might expect, there is a rider who falls and we had a couple of those on Sunday.  One rider from another team took a fall and to his good fortune, Team Joe’s riders were on the scene before the medics arrived and started to render care.  I still don’t know who from our team came to the rescue as the story was relayed to me but having a team with so many medical professionals is quite comforting!

The lunch stop at the Stockbridge High School is also a highlight on the last day since it is when the staff serve the popular Chinese food and pizza meal.  Now, there is no way yours truly can stomach that meal at that moment so I go with my staple on the ride – peanut butter and jelly.  But you could see many Team Joe’s riders and all WAM riders enjoying the lunch before heading out for the final 47 miles.

Another special highlight was meeting Wish Kid Casey at one of the break-stops.  We meet a lot of Wish Kids and Wish Families on the tour but Casey stood out for me.  He is about 11 years old and is currently getting chemo treatment.  He just got notice this past week that his wish was being granted to go to the Bahamas and swim with the pigs!  Yes, you did read that correctly.  I didn’t know you could do such a thing but that is what his dream is and that is what he will get to do.  He is not well enough to travel right now but, once he gets his medical clearance, he and his family are off to the Bahamas… and the pigs.   His eyes lit up as he told his story and he was overwhelmed by all the riders who came up to shake his hand and congratulate him on his upcoming wish.  This young boy was surrounded by love and he and his Mom could feel it.  This is why we ride.  And the doctors will tell you that when a child like Casey is in treatment and they are told they are getting  a wish, their attitude and demeanor changes dramatically and they are stronger mentally and feel much more positive about their future.  A wish is not just a trip or an experience, it gives hope and strength to these young children and helps them with their treatment.

Back to the end….With our team gathered right outside the MIS track, we rode slowly around the outside of the track to what is known as the “Silent Mile”.  Hundreds of riders ride in memory of loved ones lost too soon and there are stars with names and pictures all along a grassy area that riders stop at before they enter the track and pick up the star of the person they rode for the past three days.  You can hear a pin drop as riders pause or ride by slowly because it is truly a scared part of our journey together.  You can’t help but feel a lump in your throat as you pass this area and it reminds us all how fragile life is and that we must do all we can to help others during our time on this earth.

Watch Team Joe’s cross the finish line at MIS

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After the Silent Mile, our team rode onto the MIS track which is very cool.  The track has a steep embankment so we stay low so not to have our tires slide out from underneath us and we slowly make our way around turns 3 and 4 on the MIS track to the finish line.  As we approached the finish line, the track is lined with thousands of people cheering, singing, taking pictures and videos and celebrating our achievement in riding and making wishes come true.  The feeling is hard to describe but it is a feeling I and our team members will never forget.  After crossing the finish line, we gathered in the infield, took another team pic and just spent time talking and celebrating and already planning next year.  This is the highlight of my summer and my year and my family was there, as were many families of our riders, to greet us with hugs and smiles.

 

We then made our way to the stage area where we meet our Wish Hero who would place our medals around our neck and thank us for riding.  As I mentioned in my first update, our Wish Hero was Michael R.  Michael had a wish to play catch with Miguel Cabrera last year.  We arrived at the stage to learn that Michael was not well enough to be there with us on Sunday.  We were sad but mostly because of the news he was not feeling well.  In Michael’s place, we had three other wish children there to celebrate and give us our medals and one of them said to us, “I just can’t believe what you all did for us, thank you so much”.   That says it all. After the ceremony, we all headed to get the bags, eat  and head home to showers and beds.

A couple final thoughts….

First, I want to thank all 62 members of Team Joe’s for what they did this past weekend.  What an awesome group of people that included St. Joe’s physicians and colleagues, Probility leaders and staff who were a huge reason our team almost doubled in size this year, to friends and families of our physicians and staff who joined as well as a couple UM colleagues who also joined us.   New friendships were formed and I can see most of this team coming back next year for the 30th Wish-a-Mile that will be extra special celebrating that milestone.

I also had the fortune of crossing the finish line with my daughter, Julie, who rode for the first time.  It is a wonderful opportunity for fathers, mothers, daughters and sons to do this ride together and I am so grateful that my spunky girl wanted to go from WAM volunteer to WAM rider this year.  As we rode by riders all three days, she was always smiling and always giving encouragement to others even though she was feeling the burn in her legs.  I was a lucky Dad and she and I never separated on the road.  Thanks sweetie for making this WAM extra special.

Lastly, if you are reading this and are intrigued by this event and Team Joe’s, please consider joining us.  Just let me know of your interest and I will fill you in on everything you need to know and then you can decide.  I promise you that you will never regret climbing on board.

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Until next year….

Rob Casalou
Regional President and CEO
Saint Joseph Mercy Health System