A Springfield couple has raised nearly $15,000 to help give children with brain tumors a brighter future.
As the task force leader of the Richmond Ride For Kids, a fund-raising motorcycle ride that earns money for the Pediatric Brain Tumor Foundation, Mike Seibert and his wife, Kristi, spend long hours planning for the annual event, which brings together bikers who want to help with children who have survived cancer.
Seibert, a systems analyst with Bank of America, first participated in a smaller event that raised money for Ride for Kids in Richmond, which eventually became its own official event nearly 10 years ago.
"In 2002, after giving the Baltimore ride over $8,000 every year, we decided to try to have our own event," Seibert said.
At the time, his brother was receiving treatment for leukemia and was involved in "an experimental protocol that saved his life," Seibert said. "I thought, here was my chance to do something for the people who helped him. I can't not give something back."
After two record-breaking years, the Richmond ride, which raised $58,000 and $92,000 the first two years, Seibert and his "small task force of 10 to 12 people" have helped to establish other rides which have broken their records.
"This year, we raised $85,000," he said of the ride, which took place in Richmond on Sunday, June 4. "I figure whatever we raise is that much more money the foundation didn't have before, so it's always a success."
THE SEIBERTS were the largest individual fund-raisers at the Richmond event, bringing in $14,795 this year.
"We just talk to people about what we do and ask if they want to help," Mike Seibert said of his fund-raising technique. "I go to some of the vendors I deal with. Some of them give from their own pockets while others give corporate money."
As a Bank of America employee, Seibert said he's eligible for matching funds from the company, so every dollar he gives is met with corporate funding.
In addition to providing money to four universities for researching pediatric brain tumors. the foundation also provides scholarships to cancer survivors and financial assistance for families of patients, said Mary Ratcliffe, communications manager for the Pediatric Brain Tumor Foundation.
"Our founder, Mike Traynor, worked with someone whose daughter had a tumor and wanted to help raise money for research," said Ratcliffe, of the creation of the Ride For Kids. "The first ride was in Chicago in 1989, and it's grown to 37 other cities across the country. More than $31 million has been raised, to date, by these rides."
The Pediatric Brain Tumor Foundation was established in 1991 by Traynor and his wife, Dianne Traynor, who wanted to dedicate their efforts to raising money for pediatric tumor research after learning that no one specific organization was dedicated to that kind of cancer, Ratcliffe said.
"We donate the money we receive to four institutes, including Duke University, the University of California at San Francisco, The Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto and Childrens Hospital Los Angeles," said Ratcliffe. The foundation's offices are located in Asheville, N.C.
MORE THAN 3,400 children are diagnosed with brain tumors every year, she said, and in 1960, their chances of survival were a heartbreaking 4 percent. Now, thanks to organizations like the Pediatric Brain Tumor Foundation and advances in cancer research, a child diagnosed with a tumor has a 77 percent chance of living more than five years after being diagnosed.
"Until we started giving money to Duke University, there was no one group studying just kids," Ratcliffe said. "Their brains are more vulnerable than adults and they're still growing. We need to learn ways to do different treatments without causing developmental difficulties."
To further show the bikers those whom the research helps, at the end of every ride is a Celebration of Life, during which cancer survivors, oncologists and parents are interviewed on stage to share their stories.
"It's different from any other charity event I've ever had in that the people who benefit from the research participate," Ratcliffe said. "The kids lead the ride, they give their presentations and give this huge crowd of people a chance to know them."
Seibert said the Celebration of Life is his favorite aspect of the day.
"It's really touching to hear the kids talk," he said. "You hear these parents talk about what they've been through. Everybody is so dedicated to these kids."
His wife, Kristi, agreed, adding that at the end of the Richmond event this year, "this mom got up to speak. Here's this tiny little woman with the strength of Godzilla telling these guys how they've touched her heart since her daughter was diagnosed a few years ago. It's amazing to see these big, tough motorcycle guys crying and digging so deep into their own pockets to help out."
A 26-YEAR teacher at Lynbrook Elementary School, Kristi Seibert said she's "so proud" of her husband for his work with the Foundation and Ride For Kids.
"The thing about all this is that it strikes me how blessed I've been to have happy, healthy kids and I haven't had to deal with things like this," she said.
The closest ride to Fairfax County is in Columbia, Md. and is scheduled for Sept. 24, said Task Force Leader Kevin Merril, a Centreville resident whose nephew, Ethan, was diagnosed with a brain tumor at the age of 3 in 2002.
"I never knew anyone affected by this before then," said Merril, who had been involved with the ride for nearly a decade at the time and became task force leader shortly thereafter.
Now in his second year as leader, Merril said the goal for the ride this year is $200,000.
"The ride starts near the Pennsylvania state line and runs like a well-oiled machine," Merril said. "Unlike some other events, we're not trying to target any one demographic or type of rider. It's also very family-oriented because it's about a children's charity."
When asked if he'd like to bring Mike Seibert up to work for the Baltimore/Washington area ride instead of Richmond, Merril laughed.
"It's closer to where he lives and we'd love to have him as a member, but that's up to him," he said.
Every dollar, every volunteer, every person who learns about the Foundation and the Ride has the potential to help find the cure for these children, Ratcliffe said.
"In 1984, a child diagnosed with a brain tumor essentially was given a death sentence," she said. "We still have a long way to go, but things are so much better now."