Written & Photographed by Diana Olmstead
Like 10,000 fellow riders, I awoke to a glorious but chilly December morning ready to ride and eager to support the Olympia Toy Run‘s 31st year! My husband and I had spent the night before decking out our bikes with all things Christmas: our apes were wrapped with garland and bright red bows and each bike had a big gift wrapped box full of new toys. We bundled up in our finest cold weather holiday biker attire – our leathers, scarves and Santa hats and hit the road.
I will never forget the sight that greeted me as I pulled into the South Sound Mall parking lot; thousands of bikes – every make and model imaginable, parked with organized precision. As I hopped off of my bike who should I see, but Santa! There he was in his red suit and hat, sitting on his bike posing for pictures with riders of all ages. Sure some of you think that Santa doesn’t really exist, but what do you call a man who along with his many selfless elves (the Olympia Toy Run Coalition) organizes a yearly holiday event that provides toys to thousands of children via the Salvation Army’s Toy ’n Joy Shop? To the kids and the kids-at-heart, he’s simply Santa, although his many riding buddies often refer to him as, Joe Sullivan, the Olympia Toy Run Coordinator.
Every year Santa has a child ride with him as lead bike in the parade. This year, his passenger was 7-year-old Levi Campbell. You may remember Levi, last year he and Santa graced the cover of our Dec ’07 issue. This year, Levi, wanting to be just like Santa, was decked out in a matching red Santa suit winning the hearts of everyone who saw him. So for those of you who may still doubt if Santa is real, just talk to Levi, he knows he rode with the “real one”.
At 11:00 am, the crowd of thousands were treated to two spectacular motorcycle performances. The first, by the Seattle Cossacks Stunt & Drill Team whose origin began in the 1930‘s. The second performance was by the T90 Drill Team. The team was formed 1984 in Tenino, WA. The T90 Drill Team is a non-profit organization that sponsors an annual scholarship fund and supports other nonprofits. Both of these teams did a fantastic job keeping the crowd entertained! As the clock struck 1 the Sears parking lot rumbled in unison as 10,000 ornately decorated bikes, packed with toys, revved their motors, awaiting the official start.
Santa and Levi led the way as thousands of jolly riders fell in behind. The route itself was something to behold. The streets which had been closed to all traffic were now lined with spectators of all ages. Some held out new toys and cash donations to hand off to riders. Several were holding signs supporting and thanking the riders for participating in the Olympia Toy Run. Yet many were there to show their own children the goodwill that bikers bestow upon their local communities. Imagine the sight and sound of 5 ½ miles of street legal motorcycles riding four abreast through the heart of Olympia, past the Capitol, bordering the beautiful shores of Capitol Lake as we approached our final destination, Marathon Park.
Despite the bitter cold air, despite the gloomy economic forecast, there was something magical in the air, an overwhelming sense of hope, pride and optimism. You could see it and you could feel it. Every where you looked you could see laughter, handshakes and hugs. We were all awestruck by the never ending line of fellow riders handing off toys and cash donations to the many volunteers. It took our breath away as we took in the sight of motorcycles parked as far as the eye could see.
Joe (Santa) Sullivan addressed the crowd and introduced Major Clem Leslie of the Salvation Army. Both of these fine gentlemen expressed heartfelt gratitude to all of the riders who supported the Salvation Army’s Toy ’n Joy Shop. Without an event like this thousands of children would go without presents on Christmas day.
This year, donations filled the equivalent of 2 semi trailers of new toys, and over $12,000 in cash with donations still coming in.
The Olympia Toy Coalition members and the countless volunteers deserve a big round of applause. Organizing a charity event of this magnitude is no small task. Many of these guys never get to actually ride in the parade; instead they are behind the scenes orchestrating the safe passage of bikes and donations. I would also like to thank and mention our fellow sponsors, Sears, Northwest H-D, 97.7 The Eagle, D&F Custom Leathers, The Other Guys, Inc. (TOGI), Lew Rents, Music 6000 (M6K), BikersLawyers.com and Washington Industrial Coatings.
My husband and I said our goodbyes and rode home, filled with Christmas spirit, side by side, as the sun was setting against the backdrop of the Olympic Mountains, our cheeks cold but not our hearts.
The Olympia Toy Run is symbolic of the strength and unity of those that ride. This event gathers riders from every imaginable corner of the spectrum, and they come together in peace, as one, to simply give. Now, isn’t the very essence of the Christmas spirit “peace on earth and goodwill to all”? So to all of my brothers and sisters who rode and gave selflessly, you are a shining example of humanity at it‘s very best. May the New Year bless each and every one of you!