Scenes from MDA’s #RideForStrength and Harley-Davidson’s 115th Anniversary Parade

Leeann and Faith Fortenberry

On Labor Day weekend, Harley-Davidson and the Muscular Dystrophy Association hit the streets of Milwaukee to celebrate Harley’s 115th anniversary — and the 38-year partnership between the iconic American motorcycle maker and MDA.

Thousands of riders and bikes convened for Harley’s celebratory 115th Anniversary Parade on Sept. 2. Within the parade was MDA’s Parade of Heroes, a group of current and former MDA ambassadors, MDA families and supporters who made — or rode — their way to the event in the spirit of both Harley’s and MDA’s ideals of freedom and independence.

Current MDA National Ambassador Faith Fortenberry, 7, who lives with spinal muscular atrophy (SMA), rode in the parade with her mom, Leeann.

“Faith and I had such a great time,” Leeann says. “Riding in the parade was the most exciting thing we have done since Faith has taken on the role as the ambassador.”

Alongside Faith and Leeann were Jace Dorer, 6, who lives with Duchenne muscular dystrophy (DMD), and his dad; Mike Dimov, the No. 1 Harley fundraiser for MDA, who’s raised more than $65,000 this year alone; and 30 riders from Schaeffer’s Harley-Davidson in Orwigsburg, Penn., a dealership that’s contributed more than $2.2 million to MDA in the last 31 years.

The MDA Parade of Hereoes team gathering together for a group picture before the ride.

“It’s a family,” says Scarlett Ford, MDA vice president of Retail Partners, of Harley and its partnership with MDA. “My first year working with Harley [at MDA] was 1989. They were kind of mom-and-pop then — their first conferences were in the ballroom of a hotel with only probably 1,500 people. Now they’re at large convention centers with 10,000 people. But what I did see about Harley at the beginning that has not changed is the dedication they have and the personal investment they make in everything they do.

“The analogy I would give is Harley-Davidson is about the rider, not the bike,” she says. “For MDA, the wonderful correlation is they think about our families. They think about the people MDA serves as part of their brotherhood.”

Claudia Garber, manager of the Harley-Davidson Riding Academy, says it’s only natural.

The parade through the streets of Milwaukee.

“Harley-Davidson is all about fulfilling dreams of personal freedom, and the work that MDA does is very aligned with that mission. MDA is providing incredible support and creating research breakthroughs to allow those with muscle diseases to live life on their terms. I am proud of the incredible generosity of the Harley community over the past several decades in helping to fund this important, life-changing work.”

And just as riders have visited so many MDA Summer Camps to give kids sidecar rides — and the chance to feel the wind on their faces — they were there in full force at the parade.

“Many thanks for all you do for MDA!” Leeann says to Harley riders. “It truly means a great deal to our family, and to so many families across the country.”

MDA’s Parade of Heroes was just one event in our 38-day #RideForStrength campaign, which continues until Sept. 30. Help us honor Harley-Davidson — and raise $1.15 million for vital research. Make a donation today and get a commemorative gift when you do.