Minutes after noon today, businessman Scott Ressmeyer started up his Harley Davidson motorcycle and kicked off his fifth Scotts Ride for Miracles to raise money to benefit the Childrens Miracle Network at The Medical Center.
To see all the families come out and watch the strollers come in and kids that have been in high risk nurseries before, they are here to send us off, Ressmeyer said before the sendoff in front of the Columbus hospital. That is touching. Its not that we make a difference, it is the doctors and nurses that make the difference.
With more than 200 people looking on, Ressmeyer and 11 other riders took off on a 21-day, 9,000 mile trip across 48 states in the nation. It all started four years ago when Ressmeyer went on a bike ride to celebrate his 50th birthday but now it has turned into an annual event. Its 12 ordinary guys that love to ride motorcycles and we love to bring awareness to our kids in the community, said Ressmeyer, co-owner of Countrys Barbecue.
During the first four years, the ride has raised more than $430,000 for the neonatal and pediatric services at The Medical Center. The total from this years trip wont be revealed until riders return at the end of this month. Ultimately, we want to get to that million dollar mark, Ressmeyer said.
Traveling about 500 miles a day, the riders first stop will be in Gulfport, Miss., and the first hospital visit will come in Amarillo, Texas. Amarillo has been a special place for us to stop, he said. They go out the way to welcome us.
Officials from the hospital and Columbus Mayor Teresa Tomlinson wished the male riders well on their journey. In the beginning of budget sessions on a spending plan for fiscal 2014, Tomlinson joked she could miss a lot of debate.
If you take off with Scott, you have to take off from work for 21 days, she said. Since we are in the middle of budget session, I think I could probably go and miss a whole lot of debate but they didnt have room for me. I considered it too late, but maybe next year.
Dr. Joe Zanga, chief of pediatrics at the hospital, described the riders as messengers in promoting children health. Every dollar raised from the ride stays in Columbus to fund neonatal transport ambulance, heart monitors, to renovate a childrens play room and help decorate the pediatric childrens emergency department opening soon.
Miracle Riders, we will be looking for you at Mays end, Zanga said. Come back with your saddle bags full of donations and pledges. Come back with your minds and hearts full of good cheer. Most of all Scott, all of your riders come back safe.
This year, riders include Harris County Sheriff Mike Jolley of Hamilton; Mike Langford of Cataula; Larry Suits, Rick Stinson, Brian Brock, Ray Eckel and Butch Thomas, all of Columbus; Gary McDowell of Manchester; James Cole and Brad Hansen of Midland and Ronnie Wilson of Salem, Ala.
Before starting up their motorcycles, Ressmeyer presented a black baseball cap with a small balloon on the side to each rider. Ranging from one to four years, there is a balloon for each year the rider has been on the trip. He also gave Langford the cast of a preemies hand that was presented to him years ago. Its time to pass the hand to Langford, Ressmeyer said.
This years group also includes four rookies or new riders. They are Stinson, Eckel, Thomas and Brock.
Stinson, a retired Columbus police officer, said he has always supported the Children Miracle Network behind the scenes but wanted to get on the road this year.
Im really anxious, Stinson said. This is a thing on my bucket list that I always wanted to do.
Eckel, a retired Vietnam War veteran and Columbus patrol officer, was ready after his doctor cleared him to ride.
Actually I have been helping Scott the last three years behind the scenes and the doctor gave me clearance to go, said Eckel, the only rider on three-wheel motorcycle. He said I will be OK.
This is sheriffs Jolleys fourth trip with Ressmeyer. He recalled some scenes from Shenandoah Valley in Virginia, parts of California and riding through the Death Valley.
I always love seeing the big state of Nevada although Death Valley is not much to see, he said. Its nice to ride through and get through it.
At a kickoff ceremony in March, Scotts Ride for Miracles secured a $50,000 donation from The Grainger Foundation to support the Childrens Miracle Network and the hospital. A supplier of maintenance, repair and operating products, the company has operated in Columbus for more than 23 years.
Other sponsors include Mercedes Benz of Columbus, Aflac, Chattahoochee Harley Davidson, Columbus Tape and Video, Columbus Visitors Bureau, Countrys Barbecue, Neonatology Associates, TSYS, Bike Wrap Sponsors Front Porch of the South, Leisure Lifestyles, McCauley Propeller and Wells Fargo Bank.
Kristi Leisner was at the sendoff with her 3-month-old daughter Tinnley Leisner who was born premature. She just got out of the hospital last week, said Leisner of West Point. Shes had her ups and downs, trips to Atlanta and back.