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And while the community knows that their events are helping St. Jude continue its mission of finding cures and saving children, for Witt, the connection is much more personal.
Over the last 14 years, Larry Witt and the Belmont, Mississippi, community have raised $177,873 with their annual Saddle Up for St. Jude events.
Larry’s son, Jason, was discovered to have acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) when he was 16. For treatment, the family came to St. Jude, where researchers have been able to push the survival rate for ALL, the most common form of childhood cancer, to 94 percent. That research and treatment put the cancer into remission.
When Larry heard about the Saddle Up program, it made a perfect match: he could use his love of riding horses to show his gratitude for St. Jude saving his son’s life.
Larry gathered his riding buddies, some of which stretched over a 25-year period, and member of his community about hosting a Saddle Up event. The community rallied around the program and has been a strong supporter ever since, using word-of-mouth to local feed stores and tack shops to advertise the annual event.
But Larry said that while spreading the word helps promote the event, the key ingredient is putting together a Saddle Up where everyone enjoys themselves.
The event is held on property near Bear Creek Lake in Alabama, the countryside and on-site campgrounds making a perfect setting for Saddle Up.
Some of the participants camp out, and others show up for a great trail ride and fun entertainment which include a band, karaoke, campfire cooking and fellowship with other riders.
Combining a fun event, their love of horses and their desire to help the kids at St. Jude, these Saddle Up participants continue to return and show their support year after year.
In November 2009, 150 riders came together to raise $15,450 at their Saddle Up event, and they did so in loving memory of Larry’s wife, Barbara, who had recently passed away.
Barbara’s dedication to St. Jude and the Saddle Up event inspired all the volunteers and participants, and they know that her memory continues to live on through the annual event.