The MDA Freedom Ride - WKOW 27: Madison, WI Breaking News, Weather and Sports

The MDA Freedom Ride


The 23rd Annual Freedom Ride in Sauk County brought Harley riders from all over the Midwest for an adventure through the backroads and scenic byways of southcentral Wisconsin.

Every year, close to 2000 riders take part in what they call, ''the easiest way to give away some money.''

And all that money goes to local services for muscular dystrophy patients and research to find cures.

Their motto is "we ride for those who can't but someday will , with your help."

And many say it's the biggest and best Harley ride in the country.

It's a morning in late July and hundreds upon hundreds of motorcycles are filing into the parking lot behind Sauk Prairie Harley Davidson.

A two-wheeled parade of hope for those who's lives are tied to four wheels.

People like 9-year-old Annie Heathcoat, who used to come to watch all the hogs roll by, but this year is honored to be the southwestern Wisconsin Goodwill Ambassador for MDA.

"I saw a lot of familiar faces today," Annie says.  

Annie has been in a power wheelchair since she was two.

She has type two spinal muscular atrophy, but don't think that slows her down.

When asked how fast she can go, Annie replies, "8 1/2 miles per hour." 

"If you've seen her drive that cart around, you know she likes to go fast, cause she's quite nimble with that thing," Grant Dupee says.

That ''thing'' is made possible in part by this annual sea of chrome and rubber.

It's An event that allows bikers to do what they love best despite some threatening skies.
One thing about Harley Riders and motorcycle riders in general, they ride," Virgil Schulenburg says.  "They love what they do and the do what they love.  Especially the Harleys, and these guys know their bikes aren't made of candy and they're not gonna melt and these guys are doin' it for the kids they just keep pouring in."

And most of these riders have been here before.

People like Dennis Jelle, who comes back year after year, have seen how MDA helped a neighbor with two affected kids.

"We actually saw it helped and made a difference," Jelle says.  "You see it helps your neighbors and people you know and it makes a difference.  And then you have a different attitude about the program then."

In 23 years, the Freedom Ride has helped raise close to $2 million for MDA.

Money that helps pay for costly medical services and equipment, but parents know their kids generally put summer camp at the top of the list.

"Before school was out, it wasn't how many days before school's out, but how many days until camp," Annie's mom Melinda Heathcoat says.  "Counting the days, she knows so many friends and they have great counselors and one on one care."

Even at camp, motorcycles provided a thrill for Annie this summer.

"I went on this one white motorcycle and he did a wheelie and the side car went up in the air," Annie says.

It's surely hard to beat excitement like that, but the start of the Freedom Ride has to be a close second.

"There's nothing like hearing a huge group of bikes start at the same time.  It's just a roar.  It's like a jet plane," Terry Durkin says.

"It's just fun to watch em go by," John Moran says.  "Everyone waves and you see people you see maybe one a year and might not even know their name, but they come out here to help us and that's what it's all about."

Harley Davidson always makes a point to send a top executive to this ride.

The company says it recognizes just how big this event has become.
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"This the largest MDA Harley ride in the country and last year Virgil raised $100,000 for MDA and we're very proud of his contributions," Julie Anding of Harley Davidson says.

Virgil would be the first to pass the credit on to the dozens of people who volunteer every year to make this a first class fundraiser.

And they don't have to look far to find their reward, in a little girl who's just thrilled to ride her wheels amongst theirs.

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