by Jason P. Smith
Santa Claus came a little early this year for the kids at Children’s Hospital in Denver, but he wasn’t riding in a sleigh being towed by 12 reindeer, he was on a Harley – and he brought along an estimated 6,000 of his closest friends.
It was a loud and amazing sight – there were motorcycles and black leather jackets for what seemed like miles, but amongst the sea of leather and steel were bright and colorful toys that dotted the procession. Oversized stuffed Scooby toys, strapped to the backs of motorcycles, vibrated with the bike making it look like the dog was actually laughing.
The 17th Annual Harley-Davidson Toy Run brought thousands of toys and raised thousands of dollars for the patients at Children’s. Although the Toy Run has been an event that has gotten larger over the years, this year it got the attention of Guinness World Records.
The Toy Drive was formally considered by Guinness for the "Largest parade of Harley Davidson motorcycles" record. According to Kathy Yevoli of Rocky Mountain Harley-Davidson, the record to beat was 1,500. When the riders congregated at Rocky Mountain Harley-Davidson’s parking lot on the morning of Dec. 8, there were 2,011 Harleys and 639 non-Harley motorcycles, but those were just the ones who signed the release forms.
The bikers rode the 12 miles from the Aspen Grove Lifestyles Center in Littleton to Children’s Hospital. When asked if the ride down to the hospital was cold, Vinny Terranova of Rocky Mountain Harley-Davidson said their "t-shirts and tattoos kept us warm – this is the event to be at."
This outpouring of generosity is not uncommon, however, among Harley-Davidson, according to Terranova, who has been doing this ride from the very beginning He said Harley-Davidson sponsors events like this all over the country this time of year. "When we started this ride 17 years ago, there were only 12 of us," Terranova said. "People thought we were crazy, but look at it now."
Lon Uncapher, who was dressed as Santa leading the parade, and his wife Sandy also were among the first to participate in this event. The overwhelming message that was heard time and time again from all who participated was that it was for the kids. "You don’t have to ride a Harley to do this," Terranova said. "It’s for the kids, and you can get a lot more toys in here with something that has four wheels."
Dani Callahan, 7, was among the children anxiously awaiting the arrival of Santa and his friends. Callahan said she really likes motorcycles and likes to ride on her dad’s Harley. The lobby of the hospital was filled with kids looking out the windows waiting for all the motorcycles to arrive. Once they arrived, the lobby was filled with people draped in black leather carrying toys that, in some cases, were almost the size of the person carrying them.
The toys were dropped off in the hospital’s circle drive in front of the hospital as well as on the 6th floor, where a brief ceremony was held to honor everyone involved. "I’m gonna have to cry today, man, this just kills me," one biker said on his way up to the 6th floor. The front of the room was a wall of toys up on the 6th floor and the audience was a mix of people wearing black leather and the young patients who were able to make it for the ceremony.
Because this event has grown so much since it started, there was not enough room for everyone who participated to come up to the 6th floor and watch kids pick out toys. "There’s one thing that bugs me," Terranova said. "There were about 10,000 people who participated in this, but I don’t see 10,000 people in this room."
Terranova hopes to make this event bigger and do a drop at the hospital as well as at the Pepsi Center next year, so everyone who participates will be able to be a part of the whole event.
"The level of commitment and caring brings tears to my eyes," said Dori Biester, Hospital President and CEO. "These toys will last us all year long. We give them away for special celebrations like birthdays and milestones like completing chemotherapy."
The event, which attracted celebrities from Mrs. Colorado to professional baseball players, was indeed a worthy and moving event. Of course, all the patients who were able to make it down to hear everyone speak were able to take a toy with them when they left. "We can’t let them all sit here and not get to take a toy back with them," Biester said.