By: Betsy Berens
SAUK CITY, Wis.,-- It began in summer of 1985 as a project for rural Wisconsin motorcycle enthusiasts looking to do some good.
Virgil Schulenburg, owner of Sauk Prairie Harley-Davidson in southern Wisconsin, wanted his dealership to support a cause. “A lot of places were asking for help.” Schulenburg said. “But we knew that there were several people in the area affected with muscular dystrophy and corporate Harley-Davidson supported the Muscular Dystrophy Association, so that became our cause as well.”
Schulenburg and a handful of volunteers set out to organize a ride for muscular dystrophy that summer. With tremendous community support, 50 participants rode nearly 100 miles through the countryside to a tavern on Highway 60, launching the first-ever Freedom Ride and raising $500 for MDA along the way.
But that was not enough.
Driven by their cause, the volunteers kept going, and the ride kept growing. By the second year, there were 100 participants, post-ride entertainment at a family farm, and a $1,100 donation to MDA.
Now in its 25th year, the Annual Freedom Ride to Benefit MDA attracts more than 2,000 motorcyclists, requires nearly 300 volunteers, and raises over $100,000 annually. Since its inception, the ride has raised over $1.7 million to defeat muscular dystrophy – consistently ranking it as one of the top Harley-Davidson MDA events in the nation—and never fails to show the impact of a small town and big idea.
“It’s amazing to see how far it has come.” Crystal Mundt, General Manager of Sauk Prairie Harley-Davidson said. Mundt has been involved with planning the Freedom Ride since she came to SPH-D 23 years ago, and said preparations have evolved to a science over the years. “Now it just kind of happens.”
But it takes a lot to make over 2000 motorcycles—and their owners— move like clockwork. Plans for the next Freedom Ride begin the day after the event, and strong dedication from the Sauk Prairie H.O.G. chapter and over 300 volunteers guarantee the ride’s success.
Sandy Opitz, who has been involved in the Freedom Ride since the beginning, attributes the event’s success to these volunteers, who have a strong connection to MDA’s clients and cause.
“It is the thanks you get from those that benefit and their families that keeps a volunteer going year after year.” Opitz said. “Not all days are good in the lives of those afflicted with neuromuscular diseases, so if you can start by making just one day brighter, you have spread a little sunshine to them, and created a warmth within yourself that can’t be replicated.”
The 25th Annual Freedom Ride festivities begin Friday, June 16 at Sauk Prairie Harley-Davidson in Sauk City, Wisconsin and include a poker run, bike show, and live music. The ride departs Saturday from Sauk Prairie Harley-Davidson at 12 p.m. sharp and stops in Reedsburg. Post-ride activities will take place at VFW Park and include a raffle and bike games. Registration is $25/person and all proceeds benefit MDA. For more information, please visit http://www.saukprairiehd.com/
MDA is a voluntary health agency working to defeat 43 neuromuscular diseases through programs of worldwide research, comprehensive services and far-reaching professional and public health education. For more information about MDA’s programs and services, call (608) 222-3269.