Shea Megale may be wheelchair-bound in her daily life but, on Sunday afternoon, she roared off into the sunshine on a Harley-Davidson — escorted by nearly three dozen other riders on motorcycles.
"I liked the wind in my face and the 'bugs in my teeth' — that's a saying, you know," she said proudly, after her ride. "And I liked the feel of the motor and how fast it was going."
Shea, 8, of Centreville's Virginia Run community, has SMA (spinal muscular atrophy), a rare form of muscular dystrophy which has no cure. But her parents, Larry and Megan, sister Kelley, 13, and brother Matthew, 12, give her as full a life as possible.
And now and then, something special happens — as it did, Sunday. This something special came in the form of Virginia Run resident Armand Mancini and his motorcycle-riding buddies. Simply out of the goodness of his heart, he organized "The Ride for Shea."
He met her in February at an event at Virginia Run Elementary where his son Matt was in sixth grade and Shea was a second-grader. "Shea was in her wheelchair, and I asked if she'd like to have a ride on my motorcycle," said Mancini. "Her eyes got as wide as quarters."
So he arranged to give her a ride on his bike to Patriot Harley-Davidson in Fairfax and then to Milwaukee Frozen Custard in Chantilly. "Harley-Davidson does a lot for MS," he said. "And we wanted to give this girl a fun time."
And that they did. On Sunday, shortly after 1 p.m., Shea sat in her wheelchair on her front lawn, with her parents beside her, eagerly awaiting Mancini's appearance. Suddenly, roaring up the street came Mancini and 32 other motorcycles and riders. Friends and neighbors joined them for a send-off.
But before they left, the riders got off their bikes, came up one at a time, shook hands and introduced themselves to Shea. "Hi, Shea, I'm D.J.," said one. "Are you ready to ride?" Then her father placed her on a cushion of towels on Mancini's motorcycle, with her legs crossed in front of her and a black helmet on her head.
MANCINI STRAPPED HER snugly in place in front of him, and Larry Megale told his daughter, "All right, just 5 mph, right, Shea?" and everyone laughed. Her mom came along, too, riding on the back of someone's cycle.
Then, after directing certain motorcyclists to lead and others to follow immediately behind him and Shea, Mancini said they'd be riding down Route 29. "Let's mount 'em up," he yelled, and then everyone started their engines and took off.
"We loved it," said Megan Megale, the next evening. "Armand told me he was calling a few guys for the ride, and I assumed it was just five guys from the neighborhood. It was so much more than we expected. And when he said it's going to be an annual event, I was blown away."
All in all, she said, "It was an absolute, beautiful day for Shea." At Patriot Harley, Shea was given Harley-Davidson T-shirts, a "do-rag" for her head and Harley pins to wear. "They made a big fuss over her, and Armand put her on the big Harley Davidsons there," said Megale. He also bought her a pair of leather riding-gloves with the fingers cut out of them — and she's slept in them every night since the ride."
Shea rode in front of the pack, relishing every minute of her "motorcycle-mama" adventure. "She held her hands up in the air, like she was on a roller coaster," said her mom. "We were gone two hours, and she smiled from ear to ear, the whole time, and gave the thumbs-up to passing trucks and people beeping at her in their cars."
NEXT CAME MILWAUKEE Frozen Custard — just the ticket after a motorcycle ride on a sweltering, 90-degree, summer day. "They had reserved all the tables like for a birthday party, with a bouquet of balloons at each table," said Megale. So what flavor did Shea have there? "Vanilla — with lots and lots and lots of sprinkles," she said.
Then everyone rode back to Shea's house and tooled around the neighborhood a bit more. "The neighbors are still talking about it," said Megale. Before leaving, the motorcyclists took some photos of themselves with Shea and then said their goodbyes.
One man even presented her with a stuffed animal (naturally, a hog) that he'd bought for her at Patriot Harley. And, said Shea, "I got a little badge saying I'm a part of the Hog [slang for 'motorcycle] Club." She also said she wasn't scared, at all, during the ride. "I knew it was gonna be fun," she said. "And I trusted Mr. M."
Megale said Harley-Davidson is the No. 1 fund-raiser for muscular dystrophy, so "we have a whole, new appreciation for Harley-Davidson — and the people who ride their motorcycles — because they affect our lives. And they do these rides for people, all the time."
As the bikers departed, she said, "Here, I was thanking them, and they thanked us for allowing them to do that. It was a great day for us — it really was wonderful."