Article by Babydoll • Pics by Michael
Sacramento, CA – We all rise and shine before the sun on most event days, and it wasn’t an unusual occurrence for me to set my alarm for 4 am on this particular day. What most people don’t know about me is that I live out in the country which makes my life peaceful and my surroundings the most beautiful in California, but all roads leading to events are about a two hour trip for me. This wasn’t much different, except for the fact that my alarm did not go off and I was off to a much harried start.
By the time I got on the road I was rushing down the highway to get to Plymouth because I knew I would miss the highlight of my day – the morning lineup with Alex Briones (Batman) along with the entire Walt Gray Committee giving marching orders to 3000 Bikers.
I had just asked a photographer friend of mine to help out at a few upcoming events and I thought this event was a perfect opportunity for him to show off his talents. It was like God had spoken to me, because without his help that day, I would have been in deep trouble. It worked out perfectly. Michael took the lead at the Registration at Sac. State and I went directly to The Amador County Fairgrounds where the event would actually take place. All seemed to be going smoothly.
As, I drove into the most quaint little town of Plymouth, it felt like I had just stepped out of a time machine and my fast pace morning slowed down from high gear to low gear in a matter of seconds. A few of Plymouth’s 980 people could be seen strolling down the tree-lined street with some of the most historical buildings you will find in the area. The Methodist Episcopal Church was built in 1853 and the Empire Store building was left over from the mining days.
I finally got to The Amador County Fairgrounds and met up with Michael. We strolled down Vendor Alley which had brightly painted façade buildings for a cute country background. The band was playing and instead of non-participation from the crowd, couples were actually dancing and enjoying the day. Walt was on stage in the afternoon, giving away raffle prizes and mingling with the bikers who came out to help make this day a success.
The Hard Rock Cafe donated all the food which was a huge chunk of change on their part making the donation to “Make a Wish” much greater than it would have been.
But, what the day was about was making dreams come true. I decided to take this to a different level and instead of the usual research that I do online and through telephone interviews, I wanted to visit Walt Gray in person.
Walt who has won an Emmy for his work in TV news and who has had an amazing resume starting in radio, going on to Sports Director, the News and Talk Show Host, spent almost an hour talking about his charitable work with the Make a Wish Foundation. I thought it was incredible that he could convince KCRA-3 to let him do this motorcycle ride in the first place and they have continued to support him for six years in his quest to work with this children’s charity. TV stations can tend to be a little conservative and as we all know most conservative people think bikers are all bad seeds.
When I asked Walt how he got involved with the “Make a Wish Foundation” he said this: “I go riding my motorcycle on a Sunday afternoon anyway and why not get a large group of people together and see if you can raise some money? So, then it became which charity do you do and where do you stage it? You don’t know when you throw a party whether there is going to be 500 people there or 10,000 people, so when you put the word out ‘Come to my ride’ how do you plan food for that? And you don’t know until they show up.”
He wanted to choose a charity that would work solely with children and so he chose “The Make a Wish Foundation”. He started the ride with 1200 riders in 2003 and has grown to over 3000. This year he was able to donate a whopping $70,000.00. That is an amazing figure and will allow a lot of wishes and dreams to be fulfilled for children with degenerative, progressive or terminal illnesses.
Many motorcycle events are being affected by the economy these days. Walt asked why and I didn’t have an exact answer but thought the charitable donations that are being asked are more than some people can afford.
It seemed that Walt Gray has the right idea because he keeps the cost very low both for the vendors and the riders alike and the ride was not affected at all this year. And every year he tries to change the actual path of the ride itself and the venue because he believes the rides can become boring when they remain the same.
Many families have come up to Walt at the Arden Fair Mall where he broadcasts his show…to tell him about their personal “Make a Wish” experience which allows him to see, hands on, the direct result of a smiling child. He had one boy that used to show up at the mall and at the ride named Josh. Walt has his picture up in the studio and last year he passed away. Josh’s parents came in to inform Walt and of course, he was devastated.
In my research I found that, physicians are the ones who refer children from 2 ½ to 18 years of age to the Foundation. It is important to note however, that these children are not all terminally ill but the stress of their diseases on both their families and the child can be devastating and sometimes require a gift of something wonderfully special, allowing them to forget their pain and improve their mental state.
I learned a lot about The Walt Gray Ride and about a man I see on TV frequently but mostly, I learned about the children who need a little help from a friend. But it was the Biker’s of Northern California, and Walt Gray who was their friend for that day and who actually made it possible for a $70,000 donation to be handed to this Foundation.
Walt and I agree that the heart of the biker is with the children of America and it was certainly apparent at this event.
Special thanks go to Walt Gray and KCRA-3 for allowing us the time to visit with a man we both respect and admire and to the Make a Wish Foundation. We applaud them on their generosity of time and their success.