Bill Christian fights cancer with a motorcycle.
Through Christian’s efforts and those of his niece, Shawn Newill, an event called the “Ride To Cure Cancer” has raised thousands of dollars.
The event even began with a trip.
Not on a motorcycle, but in a car.
The idea for a fundraising poker run developed after the Fremont man lost his fiancée, Gayle Willis, to cancer. He and other family members were returning from her funeral in Illinois, when they began talking about a fundraiser.
“He had an idea that he wanted to do something to give back to the (American) Cancer Society,” Newill said.
Christian previously had poker runs for his birthday. Now, he and others would ride for a different cause — launching an event that would help area residents fight back against cancer.
The bikers have raised more than $30,500 in poker run proceeds since 2007. At first, they donated directly to the cancer society. During the last few years, they’ve donated funds at the American Cancer Society Relay for Life of Dodge County. They even lead the survivor lap during the event at Memorial Stadium in Fremont.
This year, the Relay for Life event is scheduled from 7 p.m. Friday through 7 a.m. Saturday at Memorial Stadium. Activities include a Fight Back Ceremony, games for kids, fireworks, concessions and a survivors’ lap. The public is invited; admission is free.
Money from the poker run actually is raised in September. Cash prizes are awarded for the first, second and either the third or the worst hand. Anything else raised from the cost of participating in the poker hand goes to the cancer society.
Participants typically travel 100 to 150 miles during the daylong event, which has at least five stops. Riders are encouraged to take off for the ride at the same time.
The long line of motorcycles is impressive.
“It’s really neat when you see everybody leave,” said Newill of Fremont. “We generally go out Bell Street or 23rd or Military – one of those main streets. … The sound and the sight of it – it’s very awesome to see everybody come together for the great cause.”
The ride itself is fun for bikers and their passengers – if they have one – as they travel across the countryside.
“To me, it’s very exhilarating – just being out in the open,” Newill said. “I like being on the bike by myself. It’s a time to reflect and take everything in and really not have a care. It’s very carefree.”
Eighty-six bikes were part of the first event. Last year, there were 186 bikes. The first year, $2,700 was raised. In 2012, bikers raised more than $9,100.
The seventh annual event is set for Sept. 14. It will start in town and conclude at Fremont City Auditorium. Besides the ride, the event includes drawings, silent auction items, a meal and a band for a gathering to celebrate life.
Christian, a truck driver, organizes the event with Newill doing much of the coordination. She notes that many “wonderful volunteers” help each year and lots of bikers have big hearts.
“And a lot of us either experienced cancer or lost a loved one,” she said. “It’s hard to meet anybody who hasn’t gone through that or had a family member or friend who has gone through it. Everybody’s lives are touched by cancer, unfortunately.”
During the Relay for Life, people from Ride To Cure Cancer lead the survivor lap. Riders basically walk the bikes around the track with the engines on, Newill said.
One especially touching moment occurred when Newill’s husband, Fred, took cancer survivor Tom Wickham of Fremont around the track in 2011.
“He’d always wanted to ride on a motorcycle,” she said. “This was his chance.”
Wickham later lost his cancer battle, but Newill was glad they could provide him with the motorcycle experience.
She hopes the poker run will continue to expand.
“Future plans are just to grow and raise more funds and hopefully, in the end, help find a cure,” she said.