About 1,400 motorcycle riders registered for Sunday's Chicagoland Ride For Kids in Elgin benefiting the Pediatric Brain Tumor Foundation.
"It's indescribable. It makes you feel so good," 21-year-old tumor survivor Melanie Hatch said of the crowd of bikers. "It brings you hope to know that there are people by your side 24/7."
The event, held at Elgin Community College, is one of 40 across the country raising money for youngsters diagnosed with tumors.
The foundation was established in 1991. Before that, the first Ride For Kids took place in 1984 and since has raised more than $61 million for research and support programs, with Chicagoland bringing in about $4 million.
Last year's event raised $253,165 for the foundation. That's despite rainy conditions that kept many away, said event organizer Vito Racanelli. Still, those who didn't attend sent in donations, he added.
But Sunday's clear skies and hot sun provided the ideal backdrop as engines rumbled and rock music blared. Kelley Corwin, a National Ride for Kids manager, said what makes this ride special is that bikers ride with brain tumor survivors. Hatch, who was five months old when doctors diagnosed her with a brain tumor, rode on the back of Racanelli's bike.
The folks at Chicagoland Ride For Kids provided Hatch's parents with a support network of people to help them understand what to expect while raising a child with a brain tumor. Sunday's was Hatch's 19th ride.
Hatch has suffered through two brain biopsy surgeries, one in Chicago at Children's Memorial Hospital and the other at Advocate Lutheran General Hospital in Park Ridge. Research has extended the lives of children with brain tumors. Hatch had some words for youngster just dealing with the diagnosis.
"I tell them just hang on tight and don't give up," she said. "The fight is long, but we're going to win it."
Racanelli recalls the story of a local police officer whose 22-month old daughter was diagnosed with a tumor and was in the intensive care unit at her hospital. When her father participated in the Ride For Kids, it was first time in about 90 days he had left the ICU. The Racanelli remembers the girl started walking for the first time two years ago. She's now about to turn 5 years old.
"It's just great watching these children, who are the greatest fighters in the world," Racanelli said.
The 50-mile ride takes about 40 minutes, goes though Elgin with a police escort, and costs $35 per bike. Police officers from Lake Villa and Naperville were among the department present. Many of them wore sleeveless shirts and flew American flags. Some also wore clothing celebrating war veterans.
"Bikers are just notoriously giving," Racanelli said.
Doctors diagnose about 4,150 children with brain tumors each year in America and there about 28,000 children in the country living with a brain tumor, according to the foundation.