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Bikers Have Hearts for Babies

Motorcycle riders travel 112 miles to raise $27,000 for March of Dimes.

Sunday was an ideal day for a long motorcycle ride through the country: temperatures in the upper 60s, clear blue skies and plenty of sunshine.

Turns out, it was a great day to raise money for babies, too.

The National Capital Area Chapter of the March of Dimes conducted its ninth annual Ride and Poker run, starting and ending at J. Koons Pontiac-GMC on Chain Bridge Road. The event brought together motorcycle riders from across the area and children who were born prematurely and are healthy today because of the March of Dimes.

John Conway, chairman of this year’s event, said that Sunday's ride raised twice as much money for the charity as last year.

“We raised about $27,000 today for the kids,” he said. “It gets bigger and better every year.”

Conway, who rode the 112-mile journey from Tysons Corner to Point of Rocks, Md., and back on his Harley Electra Glide, said that most of the 150 riders heard about the ride through word-of-mouth advertising from fellow bikers.

“We don’t spend a lot of money on advertising, but we do have a dedicated staff who works to spread the word,” Conway said.

The proceeds from the event will be divided between research and operating costs, with 76 percent of the money going toward researching premature births and medical care for preemies, he said.

THE RIDE demonstrated that not all bikers adhere to the tough-guy persona.

“Most of these guys, if they don’t have babies now, they have grandkids coming,” he said.

Kathy Pelech and her boyfriend, Mark Williams, were enjoying the ride through the Maryland countryside.

“I just got out of bed early on a Sunday morning,” Pelech said, eager to spend the morning on her Suzuki GS500.

“It’s fun to be out with other people with similar interests, and since I’m one of the only girls that ride with them, they all keep an eye on me,” she said. “It’s like having a bunch of older brothers.”

“I’m just trying to put some miles on my bike,” Williams said. He just put his Buell on the road late last week after flying in from the UK.

“I’ve done a lot of charity rides, but most of them have been overseas,” said the New Zealand native.

“We rode year-round in England, and if you’ve got the right gear, you can ride through late November,” Pelech said.

Wayne Jacques of Herndon rode with some friends and co-workers from Craftsman Auto Body, one of the Grand Donor sponsors of the event.

“I went on a police ride in Herndon last Saturday. Last Friday we rode up to York. It’s a great ride,” he said.

Jacques said he’ll take “any reason” to ride out on his 2003 anniversary edition Harley. “I usually hit as many rides as I can.”

Mike McCarroll, who also works at Craftsman Auto Body, said this was his first big organized ride.

“I’ve been riding since ’70 or so,” he said. “I’m not a fan of extremely organized runs, where you have to go to specific check points, but this was nice. You could run your own trip.”

McCarroll had a Grand Donor flag on the back of his bright-yellow Honda Goldwing, lovingly nicknamed "the School Bus" by his friends. The Grand Donor flag is for the person or group that raised the most money, and McCarroll brought in over $4,000 for the March of Dimes.

McCarroll was also kind enough to let this reporter join him on his bike for a much-anticipated ride.

IN A PARKING lot full of eye-catching bikes, one stood out: A Boss Hoss motorcycle, made by Chevy, powered by a Corvette engine.

“This is the only vehicle I’ve ever owned with a four-barrel carburetor,” said proud owner Bob Quinn of Annandale.

“It’s got a Z1 motor, but it doesn’t ride any different than a regular Harley,” he said. “It’s fun with the acceleration and shifts just like a car.”

The speedometer goes to 160 miles per hour, but Quinn promises he’s only gotten to 130.

“Honestly, it doesn’t feel much different than going 75, 80 miles per hour,” he said.

Steve Douthat, riding a 100 anniversary Harley Road King, said although he enjoyed the ride on Sunday, he’d rather do a cross-country trip.

“The trick to that is getting off work long enough,” he said. He and McCarroll have been riding together since high school and have been friends with Conway their whole lives, he said, which is what brought him to the ride.

Once the grown-up bikers started rolling back into the Koons parking lot, the little children got the chance to show their stuff.

Marina Yingling, 4, was born premature, weighing only 2 pounds, and is blind in her left eye.

“We’re ambassadors for the March of Dimes,” said her mom, Denise Yingling. “We figured it was nice for her to get involved. The more she gets involved, it might make it easier for her as she gets older.”

Marina rode her pink Barbie Big Wheel in a race organized for preemies helped by the charity when they were born.

“I like to ride my bike real fast,” she said.

“I remember the first event we went to was a golf event. We told her we were going to help save babies,” Denise Yingling said. “When we got there, she asked us where the babies were and when we were going to take them home.”

In addition, the Pigs vs. Hogs skills competition featured four members of the Fairfax County Police Department’s motorcycle division.

“It’s really more of a safety seminar,” said Office Charles Mills.

The officers, who were still on duty during the afternoon’s exhibition, demonstrated their skills on a three-task course: weaving through cones, perfecting a figure eight and riding as slowly as possible through a short, straight run without putting a foot on the ground.

“We ride against other officers at competitions, and occasionally we get shown up,” Mills said.

Mills ended up dropping his bike during the figure eight, and he mockingly took a bow in front of the crowd of laughing bikers.