The fourth Maryland Ride For Kids is a joy ride with a serious side.
About 400 motorcyclists will make the 52-mile trek from Columbia to Westminster today to raise money for research into childhood brain tumors. Along for the ride will be the Higgs and Sanders families of Eldersburg, who will benefit from the money raised. About $60,000 has been pledged.
Adam Sanders, 9, and Christina Higgs, 14, look the picture of health now. Both have endured surgery, radiation and chemotherapy in a battle with brain cancer, which has surpassed leukemia in the numbers of children it claims.
Adam is making his fourth motorcycle trip with the riders. He usually rides with a member of his family. In the past two years, he has raised nearly $3,500 -- the most of any Maryland rider. He led last year's ride in cycle attire, a jacket and helmet awarded to him for his fund-raising efforts.
"At first, we had no idea what a big deal this ride is or how nice it is," said Aggie C. Sanders, his mother. "The money raised means a crucial investment in research. Without the research, Adam wouldn't be here."
Adam may "top our own pledges this year," said his mother. We've "mailed out hundreds of letters and gotten everybody we know to donate."
Christina's grandfather, Melvin Higgs, helps to get the word out through the several Little George's convenience stores he owns.
"The employees and customers, especially in the town of Sykesville, have been so supportive," said Christina's mother, Pam D. Higgs, who works in the Sandosky Road store. "They constantly leave change on the counter."
The ride serves another purpose, she said.
"We need to raise awareness that there are children out there with this disease," said Ms. Higgs. "One day you have a perfectly healthy child and the next you are in University Hospital waiting for surgery. All in one day your world falls apart."
The first person Ms. Higgs called for support last year was her longtime neighbor and friend, Ms. Sanders. She knew Adam's mother could empathize with her turmoil.
"Nobody knows until they have been there," said Ms. Sanders. "Our families are a support group of two, especially when MRI [magnetic resonance imaging] time comes around. The statistics and the possibilities of results are frightening."
In the year since Christina was diagnosed with an aggressive brain tumor, she has had surgery and radiation therapy.
"My mom is much worse than me in the hospital," Christina said with a laugh. Christina, a freshman at Liberty High School, has an MRI test every three months to make sure the cancer hasn't returned.
"Her chances for recovery were so slim the odds even scared the doctors," said Ms. Higgs.
With help from American Honda Motor Corp., Mike Traynor of Atlanta founded the Ride For Kids in 1984 to help cancer victims. Since 1984, Ride For Kids has raised about $4 million, and the ride here and in 11 other states will add to the coffers this year.
"Kids are dying at an alarming rate, and there are less and less funds for research," said Mr. Traynor, who will participate in all of the rides. "The cyclists stepped up and said, 'We'll do it.' "
The Maryland ride raised more than $50,000 last year, and Mr. Traynor said he expects to exceed that total today.
Once the rally arrives in Westminster, Mr. Traynor will introduce Dr. Bert Vogelstein from Johns Hopkins Oncology Research Center.
"We have a doctor at each event to validate the importance of what the ride can do," said Mr. Traynor.
"We have today, and we live to enjoy today," said Ms. Sanders. "We are not going to waste a day that we have with worries about tomorrow."
Riding through the country will make today a great day, she said.
"For miles and miles, all you see are riders for a good cause," said Ms. Higgs.
Registration begins at 8 a.m. at The Mall in Columbia. Participants are asked to donate a $35 registration fee. The ride starts at 10 a.m. and ends about noon at the Carroll County Agriculture Center in Westminster.