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Storytelling for Giving: Riding with Gelfman
Get your motor runnin’, head out on the highway, lookin’ for adventure and whatever comes our way.
For Dick Gelfman, the way started more than 50 years ago, in a little town in Massachusetts. It was love at first sight.
“I’ve been riding since I was a teenager,” says Gelfman. “What really got me going was when I was about 13- or-14-years old and there was this little shop in Northampton, Mass. In the bottom of the shop was a small garage and in that garage, this guy would rent little motor scooters to college students. I just fell in love with the bikes and I would go down and watch him work on them, and the guy ended up offering me the opportunity to deliver the scooters! Before I knew it I was riding from Northampton to Boston. I was only a teenager but I would ride the motor scooter to Boston, deliver it to some kid at Boston University or Harvard and have enough money to get a ride back on the bus! I just fell in love with anything that had two wheels and a motor!”
Who knew back then that the two wheels turning would rotate into giving on such a grand scale! But as Gelfman says, “bikers love two things. They love motorcycles and love helping other people.”
Gelfman’s first love was a BMW. “My first motorcycle was in college,” he says. “I had a BMW R60 with a 500cc engine. At the time, BMW was trying to compete with Harley Davidson, as were a lot of other manufacturers. I got my bike while I was attending the University of Massachusetts and I rode that bike through college and continued to ride after that. When my kids were small I put the motorcycles aside for a while. I think when my youngest turned 15-or-16 I picked it up again and started riding. Even in my years at WJZ-TV in Baltimore, I would ride my bike to work in the summer, at least three out of five days in the week. Any opportunity I could find would be a good reason to ride. When some people leave work they grab a coffee or tea for their drive to unwind, but my best relaxation was to hop on my motorcycle and then take the long way home, an extra ten miles or so to enjoy the road, the turns and the “twisties” and just relax.”
“I once rode my bike 400 miles from Maryland to Massachusetts,” says Gelfman. “And when I got there I felt relaxed and exhilarated, not strained, or exhausted. I rode back the same day and felt the same way when I got home. I paced myself, I’d ride an hour or two, see something worth looking at or interesting by the side of the road and stop to look, or I’d see some type of a detour and take it. I put 800 to 900 miles on the road that day and I felt great!”
The good feelings Gelman had with his bike soon blended into what other bikers feel – a reason to share those good vibrations, by finding a way to give back.
“I loved riding and I love my family,” says Gelfman. “I was thankful, I had three healthy daughters, and I was grateful they were all in good health. When you have women in your life you are always worried about things, things like breast cancer – and I wanted to find a way to help others going through that and figured why not combine my two loves – my family and my motorcycle.”
A first it was a nice gesture, but it quickly became a grand event.
“It really started with a small group of bikers, maybe 10-12 people,” says Gelfman. “We figured we’d raise money in a small amount and donate it to a good cause. But the more we talked about it in our family, the fact I was on the TV news program at WJZ, and that people knew I loved to ride, we said let’s do something better and bigger. Next thing I knew other bikers were being recruited, everyone from judges, to steelworkers, to bankers, to priests, to others from all walks of life, mainly people we knew in the riding community. We started the Ride Across Maryland Foundation and the Board of Directors decided we’d donate to the cause of battling breast cancer.”
Usually, a first-time event generates interest and participation, but the fact that the first ride was up in the mountains of Maryland was an omen of things to come because no one knew it then, but Dick Gelfman’s Ride Across Maryland was going to reach new heights right out of the gate.
“The most significant memory I have in all of this is the first year we did the ride in 2001,” says Gelfman. “We were going to Wisp Resort in western Maryland for a Saturday/Sunday event. We thought we would raise maybe five or ten thousand dollars, after expenses, so we invited people from the Susan G. Komen Foundation to join us. They asked us what we thought we might raise and we gave them that 5-to-10 thousand dollar number. We held the event on Saturday and then the treasurer spent the night counting the donations. She called me at 3 am and woke me up to tell me we could donate $150,000! I said, ‘are you sure you have the decimal point in the right place?’, “she said, ‘yes, no doubt’. “I never thought we’d raise that much money the first time around.”
Gelfman continues, “But the more I thought about it, the more it made sense because bikers are some of the most generous people I know. As I said, they like two things, their bikes and they like to help other people. Go into any biker group and you see they are always doing events to benefit someone else. Plus, we had the advantage of being on TV with our cause, so we could plug it and WJZ stood behind it and promoted it. We started doing Dick Gelfman’s Ride Across Maryland, every year, the week after the National Ride to the Wall in DC, when a million bikers would ride into the nation’s capital. It was really a major kind of event for us that took a year’s worth of planning to pull off each year.”
Since 2001, the Foundation has awarded over $2.5 million to various organizations that assist patients and their families dealing with breast cancer. But as the Ride Across Maryland grew in the number of years the event was being held, so did the ages of the bikers participating. “Although we had all kinds of riders, Harley riders, BMW riders, even some small scooter riders, the biggest impact was still the older Harley rider, the guy or gal still riding a Cruiser. He or she is the person that wants to attend the event, maybe hang at the beach or in the mountains with their buddies, talk about the Vietnam War, Woodstock, etc, that other younger people don’t relate to. So we realized we’d have to change, adapt and attract younger riders.”
In order to attract a young group of motorcyclists for the Ride Across Maryland, the foundation has now partnered with The Ulman Cancer Fund. The Ride has taken a hiatus for the past few years to re-group and re-organize and attract a younger group of bikers willing to give back to the community and to help battle cancer. Gelfman and CEO Brock Yetso, see it as a perfect partnership. The Ulman Cancer Fund for Young Adults, founded in 1997, is the national leader in providing specialized support for young adults affected by cancer.
With nearly 70,000 young adults diagnosed every year, UCF helps young people fight the disease and navigate treatment by providing access to information and other specialized programs. Both the Yetso and Gelfman families have unfortunately been impacted in significant ways by this disease. Yetso had a good friend diagnosed with cancer back in college and lost his mom to colon cancer in 2000. In 2014, the Gelfman’s lost one of their daughters, Vickie, to acute myeloid leukemia. She passed away at age 31, exactly 18 months to the day after her initial diagnosis, (http://markbrodinsky.com/the-sunday-series-38-with-mark-brodinsky/).
Gelfman says the Ulman Fund is a great partner because they attract a younger crowd and they have a better back office then a smaller Foundation like the Ride Across Maryland, which is run almost completely by volunteers. Gelfman believes that the Ulman Fund and the RAM Foundation can get The Ride going again by 2020 and once again schedule it for early to mid-June. Details will be forthcoming soon.
And as far as Dick Gelfman and his motorcycle experience? “I am between bikes right now,” says Gelfman. “I had a 2006 Heritage Softtail Classic and I’m waiting for the new ones, which actually have a reverse gear. Harley resisted that for years, but they have had so many requests, they’re rolling out a new edition.
In the meantime, Gelfman says he will relish every riding experience, not just that of the many Rides Across Maryland, but any time he can get out on his motorcycle. “There’s nothing quite like the ride on your bike,” says Gelfman. “You get a 360-degree view of the world you just can’t get riding in a car, it’s so different, wide open and relaxing. Everybody who rides a bike says the same thing, it’s not the destination… it’s the ride!”
This story as well as all of the others on our website are written by Mark Brodinsky, an Emmy-Award winning television producer, speaker, popular blogger, and published author. You can find more information about Mark on his website at http://markbrodinsky.life/