“I’ve always been a sap for youth,” said Dave Schielein. Helping those in need, especially where children are concerned, is a given for this owner of a demolition and excavation company in Peoria, Ill.
Schielein was a part of the inaugural group of St. Jude Rides, along with co-founders Brad Wiebler and Mike McCoy. The annual motorcycle convoy from Peoria to Memphis, Tenn., where St. Jude Children's Hospital is located, and its satellite rides from six cities, has raised over $4.4 million since it started in 2007. It rolled onto the campus of St. Jude again on Sept. 15, bringing with it the sound of thunder, road-weary riders and hearts full of compassion.
For years, Schielein has organized and made the ride for patients and families who put all their hope and faith in St. Jude, and with whom he’s had no personal connection.
Until this year.
His 8-year-old great-niece, Shayla, was was found to have acute lymphoblastic leukemia, a type of blood cancer, and is now a patient at St. Jude.
At the time of Shayla’s diagnosis, Schielein had finished 10 years of serving on the leadership team for the event, and says he was looking forward to handing the reins over to a younger group of organizers. But when the news came about his great-niece, the sense of urgency hit close to home. When he mounted his Harley this year for the 465-mile ride this year, he did so with the new perspective of a patient family.
“People don’t realize that the family may be pulling out of a job position somewhere and that paycheck may not be coming through,” Schielein said. He adds that Shayla’s parents had no idea that, thanks to generous supporters and fundraisers like St. Jude Rides, families never receive a bill for treatment, travel, housing or food.
Though Schielein himself was aware of St. Jude when he first helped kick-start the idea of a motorcycle ride fundraiser, he didn’t understand the depth of the hospital’s research and treatment facilities until that first year when 35 riders made the inaugural trip and toured the hospital. It’s an understanding that continues to deepen.
About 150 riders left Peoria on the morning of Sept. 14 with a highway patrol escort and caravan of motorcycles and support vehicles that stretched for three miles of open highway. Along the way, passersby stopped on the side of the road to wave or cheered from overpasses. In Dyersburg, Tenn., they were met by another 50 or so riders from the satellite cities — Peoria, Princeton and Sterling/Rock Falls in Illinois; Kansas City, Mo.; Des Moines, Iowa; and Nashville, Tenn. The following morning, they rumbled the remaining 80 miles to Memphis.
“It was eye-opening,” he said, noting the transformative power of the hospital on the riders. “We get down there and … then we take a tour of the hospital and you watch the tears coming down. It’s a moving experience.”