Bicyclists to ride in 300-mile tour from Traverse City to Chelsea to help make children's wishes come true
Danielle Mongrain wanted to go to Disney World. Thanks to Make-A-Wish Foundation of Michigan, the 11-year-old's wish came true six years ago.
Danielle is a Wish Hero, a child who has been granted his or her wish by the Make-A-Wish Foundation of Michigan. The foundation aims to make the hopes and desires of children with life-threatening diseases come true. Danielle, who has mitochondrial encephalomyopathy, which affects the brain and muscles, spent a week at Disney World, enjoying the shows -- her favorites were "Beauty and the Beast" and "The Lion King."
This week, Danielle's brother and father will embark in a bicycle fundraiser that will help raise money for the foundation. In its 23rd year, the fundraiser is called Wish-A-Mile 300, or WAM 300, and features a 300-mile bike ride from Traverse City to Chelsea.
Photo courtesy of Julia Mongrain
Bicyclists start with registration in Chelsea at the fairgrounds, 20501 Old US-12, on Thursday, and are transported with their bicycles to Traverse City East Middle School in Traverse City, where the ride begins on Friday. The ride ends with a Heroes Hurrah, an end-of-the-trail picnic with a welcome from the Wish Heroes like Danielle in Chelsea on Sunday at the fairgrounds. Wish Heroes are assigned to riders as their inspiration for riding.
The Wish-A-Mile 300 is the largest fundraiser for Make-A-Wish Foundation.
“It is crucial in our ability to grant wishes,” said Laura Varon Brown, director of communications for the Make-A-Wish Foundation of Michigan, who added that more than 6,400 wishes have been granted since the beginning of the Michigan foundation in 1984.
“We hope to raise more than $1 million,” said Varon Brown, who said the tour grew from a group of about four riders who challenged themselves to ride from Mackinaw to somewhere downstate and they picked a charity for which to ride in honor. Last year, the tour raised more than $1.5 million - enough to grant 250 wishes to Michigan wish kids, according to the website.
Bicyclists must raise a minimum of $750 to enter the 300-mile tour, and for the Wish-A-Mile 50, which is new this year, they raise $300. The WAM 50 is a 50-mile ride on the last day of the tour. For the tour, they are provided with meals, lodging at schools, and fully stocked rest stops.
There are 800 riders in the WAM 300, and 70 in the WAM 50, said Varon Brown.
Photo courtesy of Laura Varon Brown
Julia Mongrain said her whole family is involved in WAM, from in-laws who make thank-you gifts for those who ride in the WAM to family members who are riding in the tour.
“My husband Bill and my stepson Jacob are looking forward to the ride. It’s a great experience, but it’s a big commitment to people who ride. A lot of them train to ride, and they also fundraise. It’s a lot of time spent away from their families,” she said.
Bill Mongrain said he is in the fourth year of riding in the tour in honor of his daughter, but that this was his son’s first trip.
“The people you meet on the ride are wonderful. It changes your life. It’s not really about the ride, it’s the kids. The ride is just the vehicle for fundraising,” he said.
He added that the ride was challenging at times, and there have been times when he wanted to stop.
“But the kids are counting on you It makes you think about the kids, who struggle every day,” he said.
When she was 15 months old, Danielle was diagnosed with mitochondrial encephalomyopathy, for which there is no cure. She requires total care, including being tube fed and taking 15 different medications at a time, several times a day. She also requires breathing treatments and scoliosis treatments.
Julia Mongrain said she has the body of a 12-year-old and the mental capabilities of a 1-year-old child.
The trip to Disney World gave Danielle a break from everything, and it gave her the opportunity to get involved with Make-A-Wish Foundation, which allowed her to meet a lot of people, Julia Mongrain said.
On the WAM 300, the last mile of the tour is called the Silent Mile. It is in memory of children who have died.
“It is a reflection of why we ride. It’s because we can do something magical,” said Varon Brown, who said that the wish a child receives can take up to a year to be granted, and is something that the child anticipates.
“Part of their treatment is the anticipation,” said Varon Brown. “It gives them something to look forward to.”
For more information on entering the tour or sponsoring a rider, call 734-994-8620 or visit www.wishmich.org. Text WAM 90999 to give $5.
Alana West is a freelance writer for AnnArbor.com. Contact the news desk at 734-623-2530.