thunder-ride-kids

By Tristan Szente  

So much can be said for being a part of something larger than yourself. To some, it’s serving in the military. For others, it could be doing volunteer work overseas. But here’s the thing: There is unlimited potential to be a part of something more, right here in our own backyard! 

I’m referring to charity foundations. Perhaps giving a few dollars to a good cause doesn’t seem like the selfless act you imagined, but what if I told you a couple of dollars could make a whole world of difference to those who need it? 

Sadly, in this world, there are families who struggle to help their children survive each day. These families are just like ours; they work hard, attend their kids’ sporting events, celebrate birthdays—they do it all. The only difference is that their children have juvenile diabetes (also known as Type 1 diabetes), and they spend night after night awake in fear that their son or daughter may not live to see tomorrow. 

This story is one that was all too real for John Haverty. One night, he and his wife awoke to their young boy dying in their arms. Haverty, who was an EMT at the time, and his wife, who was also strongly rooted in the medical field, went so far as to provide breaths for their boy.

“I knew that it was the medication that would save him, but I couldn’t just sit there and do nothing. Watching your child die … that’s something I do not wish on anyone,” Haverty said, fighting tears. “Anyone.”

To be honest, it took everything I had not to tear up during my talk with Haverty, and I still ended up crying. I don’t have children of my own, but I can’t fathom the horror of seeing any of my loved ones dying before my eyes. The very thought kept me up for the following two nights. 

In some of the darkest moments Haverty’s family experienced, he knew he had to do something about this. Juvenile diabetes isn’t rare by any means. It is estimated that over 15,000 children are diagnosed with diabetes every year.

“And that’s just children, like mine,” Haverty mentioned. “That number doesn’t include parents, husbands, wives, grandparents or loved ones. This is a serious problem we are facing. I had to do something, not just for my boy but for all the other families living with the same fears.”

And do something, he did. He founded Thunder Ride for Juvenile Diabetes, an annual event to raise money for the care of Coulee Region children whose families need it most during their child’s fight with this disease. 

Some of the greatest help and support Haverty found was in motorcyclists. “They loved the cause and what it stood for. The cause also gave anyone with a motorcycle just another reason to pull out their bike and go for a ride,” John smiled. 

“It’s quite something to hear and see hundreds of motorcycles together at once.”

Fifteen years after its creation, John’s charity has been largely successful. Hundreds of riders have shown up for the events, and just as many non-riders have come to show their support for this cause as well. Awe-inspiring, heartfelt stories have been shared, and over 100 families have been helped by the donations raised by all participants.

While Haverty is no longer leading the charge, it was his partner in the Thunder Ride, Barb Stowasser, who chose Rod’s Ride On Powersports as the heir to their foundation. Today, the ride is in the caring hands of two individuals from Rod’s Ride On Powersports, Jen Buchner and Katrina Jenkins. 

They informed me that during the past couple of years, the donation total has been about $50,000 per year, all of which has been divided between Mayo Clinic Health System and Gundersen Health System, then distributed to the families in need of help to pay their medical bills. Both Buchner and Jenkins smiled at their increased success, but I noticed something behind those smiles.

“You know, what we have been able to do … it’s wonderful,” Jenkins mused, “but we are just getting started here. We want to hit an even higher note this year. The community has truly backed us, and together, I think we can end the tragedy that is juvenile diabetes.”

I turned to Buchner to get her take on the charity and received a similar answer.

“It’s just amazing how the community has come together and the stories that everyone shares with each other. It’s brought everyone together,” she said.

So, come on down to Rod’s Ride On Powersports on July 29 to see the impact your donation has on families fighting juvenile diabetes. And don’t feel like you aren’t doing much by donating those few dollars. Even the smallest acts of kindness can create thunder … thunder that someday will rid this world of the tragedy that is juvenile diabetes.

For more information, visit www.thunderride.org.

Tristan C. Szente is an old-at-heart author in a young man’s body. Hailing from the East Coast, he now calls La Crosse “home.” With plenty of stories left to tell, adventure and exploration are a constant. He spends a good deal of his time wandering La Crosse, making friends with the locals and sporting his blaze-orange pocketbook full of unheard tales.