One of the best parts of being MDA’s National Goodwill Ambassador is getting to travel the country to places I’ve never been before. Visiting Daytona Beach, Florida, to attend Harley-Davidson’s legendary Bike Week allowed me to indulge my deep love of warm weather, palm trees and beach-side al fresco dining. As a Colorado resident, I’m always dreaming of escaping to somewhere tropical! But not only was attending Daytona Bike Week a fun break from the cold weather of the Rocky Mountains, it was also a truly inspiring adventure. It’s no surprise that the extended MDA family is made up of generous and kind-hearted people. Every time I’m surrounded by those who make MDA’s mission a reality, I’m reminded just how great they are.
In some ways, though I’d never been to Bike Week before, it was a kind of homecoming. I grew up around Harley-Davidson. When I was about 10 my mom decided she wanted to buy a motorcycle and learn how to ride. Knowing the brand’s connection to MDA, she wanted to help expand its presence in Northern Colorado. When she first got her bike she didn’t even know how to turn it on! But after several driving and safety classes, she was ready to ride free. She, along with some riding friends, the local MDA office and our local Harley-Davidson dealership, helped get the Colorado biker community excited to raise money for MDA. Naturally, I followed her every step of the way and learned quite a bit about biking culture myself. One of the things I admire most about Harley-Davidson is the enthusiasm of their riders who have made the brand a part of their lives, and I love seeing them include MDA families in that. Don’t let the tattoos, leather, bandannas, piercings and roar of their engines fool you–these riders are true teddy-bears with passions for helping others experience the best freedoms life can offer.
As I got older and more focused on my education and involvement at Colorado State University, I slowly began to nurture other aspects of my life besides MDA. Unfortunately, that also meant I spent less time around Harley-Davidson, too. Part of the reason I had such a great time in Daytona was because I enjoyed getting to immerse myself in biker culture once again and quickly remembered how much I love it. Motorcycle riders are an extremely welcoming people and their kindness was overwhelming.
While in Florida, I had the opportunity to sit down and chat with Karen Davidson, of the Davidson family. Her warm-hearted demeanor and fun attitude is a true testament to the Harley-Davidson brand. Within minutes of meeting her, it was clear to both of us a true friendship had begun. Karen embodies everything the company stands for, and, after our interaction, I was able to see clearly why H-D has partnered with MDA for more than 30 years.
Though my main purpose for visiting South Florida last week was to attend Daytona Bike Week, my trip quickly became so much more than that. Most importantly, this trip made me realize just how many people the MDA has been able to touch through the work we do and how large our network of supporters has become. While there I was lucky enough to visit three different local sponsors in the area including a Popeyes, Lowe’s and group of firemen out collecting for Fill the Boot. It was an incredible experience to see people care about helping our families live longer and grow stronger. Ever since starting to speak on MDA’s behalf as an adult, I’ve found myself having more and more trouble containing my emotions when interacting with the people doing the work to make life better for people like me. Every person I met that day blew my mind. Hearing them tell me why it was important for them to raise money for our cause was so meaningful for me. One moment that stood out in particular was when I was talking to Anita, the manager of Popeyes and a purveyor of some very tasty chicken if I do say so myself. She told me about a young mother who had stopped in the week prior to our visit just to say thank you. She explain that the woman had a son with muscular dystrophy and, when it came time for him to get necessary leg braces, she was able to provide them for him because of the help MDA gave her. When I asked Anita why it was important for her to support MDA she said, “It’s real, and it’s right here in the community you live in.” Honestly, I couldn’t have said it better myself.
I also enjoyed visiting the MDA Shamrocks top-selling Lowe’s store in the country in DeLand, FL. I couldn’t believe the enthusiasm that filled the room as the employees shared their motivation for helping MDA. And again, I had a difficult time containing my emotions while I chatted with all of them. The best part of this visit was meeting the team had made “Minions” out of the green and gold Shamrocks they had sold. It was the most adorable and creative way I’ve ever seen MDA’s “lucky charms” displayed. I was glad to see the Lowe’s employees having fun and it was interesting to learn their creative strategies for selling the most Shamrocks. I even got to meet Shannon, the store’s top-selling cashier. What a sweetheart! Just in the last few weeks she has raised more than $4,000 dollars for MDA, and I’m so grateful for that! Shannon, if you’re reading this, you’re a champ!
Finally, despite the hot weather, I made one last stop to thank some of the local firefighters volunteering on their time off to raise money for MDA families. Of course, in true firemen fashion, this was the most casual of my stops during the trip. I’m genuinely grateful for that because it gave me time to connect with each of the guys personally. I find it amazing that these men, who work tirelessly for their communities on a regular basis, are willing to stand on hot pavement in the Florida heat to give people living with life-threatening diseases lives without limitations. People say they’re America’s heroes, and I agree. Firemen who Fill the Boot for MDA will forever be close to my heart because of their compassion for those living with muscle-debilitating diseases.
Being able to visit the Sunshine State and meet all of these inspiring people was an extremely impactful adventure for me. The amount of love and kindness I experienced last week is something I won’t soon forget. Since accepting my current role with MDA, I’ve often found myself wondering how I got so lucky to be chosen. Being able to swap stories and connect with everyone I met in Daytona made me even more thankful for this opportunity. I learned so much on this trip and my excitement to continue this journey was only enhanced by the experience.
As for my next trip to Arlington, VA and Washington, D.C., which I’ll be sharing with you soon, all I can say is “Bring it on!”