GREENVILLE — Bill Briggs of Ada and 5-year-old Ryan Heyboer of Grand Rapids had never met, but on Saturday they shared five minutes together that the two are likely to never forget.
Briggs, on day two of the three-day 300-mile Wish-A-Mile bike tour, had just stopped with hundreds of other riders for lunch at the Seiter Education Center in Greenville.
Ryan, one day removed from undergoing an intrathecal chemotherapy treatment procedure in which he had to be sedated, was simply waiting for the chance to thank riders such as Briggs who helped raise enough money for children like him to spend a week away from a life with leukemia.
As the two spent a few moments talking and flipping through Ryan’s photo album of his Make-A-Wish trip to Disney World, Ryan’s mother, Angie Heyboer, could only watch and smile in gratitude.
“It amazes me to see these people, some who don’t even know of or have an individual wish kid, yet they are still out here to help raise money,” she said. “To see these hundreds of riders out here so these kids can have one week to be a kid again, it’s amazing.”
Ryan’s wish through the Michigan Make-A-Wish foundation was simply to get on a plane and give Mickey Mouse a hug.
Thanks to money raised by events such as the Wish-A-Mile bike tour, Ryan’s wish was granted last December, and he was able to meet Mickey in person and indeed wrap his arms around the giant, cuddly mouse.
“It was really fun and I really liked it,” Ryan said of his trip to Disney World. “My favorite part was going on the plane. I really liked looking at the clouds.”
For Briggs, whose own 6-year-old son, Cole Briggs, is a wish kid who underwent a kidney transplant, meeting Ryan on the 300-mile journey only fueled him with more inspiration to complete the trip.
“He’s awesome and he just loved his wish,” Briggs said of Ryan. “Going through those photos, it’s the best way to relive your wish.”
Briggs said the 300-mile ride itself is tiring, but with kids like Ryan depending on Make-A-Wish for a week of normalcy, there’s no shortage of inspiration to complete the trip.
“It’s undoubtedly tiring,” Briggs said of biking. “The effort itself is tremendous. There are so many people working so hard for these three days. I figure, I can’t ride far enough to give back what (Make-A-Wish) gave to us.”
Just a few feet away, 8-year-old Hailey Garland, of Greenville, was with her family, who eagerly awaited the chance to thank cyclists for their efforts.
Hailey, who suffers from partial trisomy 22 syndrome, a chromosomal disorder that causes muscle weakness and mental retardation, was granted her wish of traveling to California with her family to visit Disney Land and the San Diego Zoo.
“We’re just here to show our appreciation and say thank you,” Hailey’s mother, Jennifer Diehl, said. “Without these people, we never would have made it there.”
Diehl said with Hailey requiring attention 24 hours a day, without Make-A-Wish, the trip to California would never have been able to happen.
“It’s a huge blessing,” she said. “It’s amazing to see that so many people care so much for other people. These riders are willing to put themselves out there like this to raise so much money so that people can be granted wishes that otherwise would not be able to happen.”
Make-A-Wish President and CEO Karen Davis said despite inclement weather during the first day of the ride, the trip had been a success through two days.
“Our riders are troopers,” she said. “Things have been fantastic. In 25 years of doing this, it’s kind of like family coming back together every summer.”
Davis said the event was once again expected to be a big success in raising money for children’s wishes to be granted.
“This is really about the impact the rider’s dollars has, and the chance to see the interaction between some of these kids and the riders, it’s truly special.”
Davis said 900 riders were signed up for this year’s tour, with a goal to raise more than $2 million in funds for Make-A-Wish.
Davis said each rider raises money individually, raising at least $900 each.
“Our largest individual donations can be as high as $20,000,” she said. “Being our flagship event, this bicycle tour goes a long way for these kids and giving them a chance to have a week to get away and focus on their families.”
The 300-mile trip began in Traverse City and ended at Michigan International Speedway in Brooklyn on Sunday.
The stop for lunch in Greenville has been an annual stop to feed hungry cyclists, but for Ryan and Hailey, it was a chance to finally thank so many of the people that helped give them one week of their lives to return to normalcy.