Scott Ressmeyer and 20 other Miracle Riders mounted up this morning and thundered off on their annual cross-country motorcycle ride, this year in memory of, and in the spiritual company of, young Martin Thiele.
An hour-long, often emotional ceremony preceded the start of the seventh and final Scott’s Ride for Miracles, a 9,000-mile trek that will take the riders to each of the lower 48 United States over the next three weeks. The central topic of every speaker was Thiele, an indefatigable teen-ager who succumbed to cancer Thursday. Ressmeyer and other Miracle Riders had befriended Thiele and even had him join them as a passenger for a segment of last year’s ride.
“Martin was larger than life. Martin was the one who lifted us up, the one that took each of the riders and took us to a higher level,” Ressmeyer said. “Every day we deal with adversity in our lives. Martin took on those adversities and he always had a smile.”
Ryan Chandler, president and CEO of the Midtown Medical Center, where the departure was staged this morning, had trouble delivering his remarks when his subject turned to Thiele.
“ He touched this entire organization in a way no one in my experience has ever done,” Chandler said, his voice breaking. “An 18-year-old guy, he fought harder and showed more courage than any person that I’ve ever seen. Martin is going to be missed, but I know that he’s going to be with you guys. He’ll be watching over you guys.”
Mayor Teresa Tomlinson thanked the riders for the donations they have brought to the Childrens Miracle Network -- $870,000 over the last six years. And she remarked on how Thiele had touched so many lives in his shortened lifetime.
“Martin was an angel here on earth. That’s what everybody is attesting to today. Well he’s been promoted. Today he is a full-fledged angel. He will be riding with you all at a safe 65 miles per hour,” Tomlinson said, drawing a laugh from the riders and the crowd. “He will be hovering over you, keeping you safe.”
A few years ago, the Miracle Riders decided to keep the ride going until they had raised more than $1 million, which they expect to achieve during this year’s ride. The money has helped and will continue to help the Midtown Medical Center have the region’s premiere children’s hospital, especially in neonatal intensive care.
Kari Fortner knows first-hand the value of the neonatal intensive care unit. She is convinced that without it, she would not have been holding 14-month Kolton on her hip at the event this morning.
Due to complications, Kolton had to be delivered just shy of 25 weeks into her pregnancy. He weighed 1 pound, 11 ounces at birth and faced battery of challenges. Now, at 14 months, he is still a little underweight at 18 pounds, but Fortner said her doctors expect Kolton to have a normal life, as if he had been a full term baby.
“Without them, I would not have a son. Our family would be incomplete,” Fortner said. “If it weren’t for the NICU here, I don’t know what we would have done. Even if he had been born at another hospital, he might not have survived. He is without a doubt our little miracle.”
Ressmeyer and the Miracle Riders are expected to cover the approximately 9,000 miles in 21 days, which should put them back in Columbus on May 22, where they will be met downtown by a large crowd and celebration for the last time.