Megan Rowe slipped on her red motorcycle helmet, tears misting in her eyes behind its visor.
At age 18, Rowe of Leawood wasn’t sure exactly sure how she was going to feel Sunday morning as she hopped on the back of her father’s silver Yamaha and — for the first and, now, last time — took part as a rider in the “Real Bikers Wear Pink” breast cancer charity motorcycle ride that she began seven years ago when she only in middle school.
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“This is my last ride,” Megan said to a throng of bikers,, her voice breaking with emotion. “I’m so thankful to share it with all of you.”
She stood in a fluorescent-pink tee-shirt in the parking lot of Sam’s Club on 135th Street in Overland Park only moments before, at 9:30 a.m., the motors of more than 75 motorcycles rumbled to life for the 100-mile ride.
“This event has really changed my life,” she continued, “the way I see the world, the way I see the ability of individuals, no matter if they’re 12 years old, to be able to bring people together to make a difference.”
Rowe was only 12 when, while at sleepover at friend’s, the friend showed her a locket containing a picture of her biological mother who had died of breast cancer. Around the same time, her father, Brad Rowe, now 49, had gotten his first motorcycle. Rowe, in those same weeks, also heard of a neighbor who had had a double-mastectomy, a classmate whose mom was a breast cancer survivor and that Rowe’s own grandmother had had the disease.
“I was talking to my mom about it, “ Rowe recalled in an interview before Sunday’s ride, “and we were driving behind my dad on his motorcycle and he as wearing a pink shirt. We were joking about it and and saying, ‘You know, real bikers wear pink.’”
That’s when Rowe spawned the idea organize motorcyclists on a ride to support breast cancer.
“My mother said, ‘If that’s what you want to do, then let’s do it,’ ” Rowe said.
Some 60 bikers rode that first year, with Rowe and her parents and others getting sponsors and passing out fliers at biker bars.
The first year, she raised $1,500. Over the last seven, she’s raised more than $22,000 earmarked for research through the foundation, Susan G. Komen for the Cure.
Except now Rowe is off to college at te University of Oklahoma in Norman. A volleyball and softball player at Blue Valley High School and then, from her sophomore to senior year, at Blue Valley Southwest, Rowe’s current plan is to earn a graduate degree in intercollegiate athletic administration.
“I want to be able to help athletes achieve their dreams for the future.”
All the way up until Saturday, Rowe figured that her going away to college would mean that the seventh annual ride would be the last. She had never actually ridden in the event being so busy with working and organizing the event.
But on Saturday, Rowe said she spoke to Charles Bell, 35, of Overland Park who in 2011 founded T.A.P.S — which stand for Traffic And Public Safety, Kansas City, a private security company out of Lenexa that he began in honor of his late-grandfather’s military service. Bell has agreed to take over and run the annual charity ride. This year marks the third year that T.A.P.S. had volunteered to provide road escort and security for the event.
“Thankfully, and this just came together yesterdayReal Bikers Wear Pink will live on,” Rowe told the bikers to cheers and applause.
So the riders straddled their bikes.
“My mother-in-law had breast cancer,” said Doris Sarver, 53, of Lenexa. “She was a 25-year survivor. I’m also doing it to support Megan.”
Sophie Druesdell, 19, and Meagan Galigher, 21, both Kansas State University students from Overland Park, came with three male friends, all in their 20s
“It’s my sorority’s philanthropy,” said Druesdell, but both she and Galigher said they have multiple family members who have been affected by the disease.
“We don’t normally get up this early,” Galigher said. “But it was important.”
Rowe said the event has touched her and changed her in ways she never expected. She has celebrated with those who have survived breast cancer and shared tears with the families of those who did not.
“I have a lot of people who come up to me and say thank you,” Rowe said, adding there was one man from the ride three years ago, when she was 15, who especially sticks out in her mind.
“He never really talked to anybody,” she recalled. “He was a huge, burly guy, with this great beard, a pretty spectacular beard. Wearing leather and tattoos, on the outside he looked really gruff.
But before he left, it turned out his wife was with him. He gave me a huge hug and started balling on my shoulder. He looked up at me and said, ‘Thank you or doing this. It is people like you and events like this that have given me more time with my wife.’”
On Sunday, with her arms around her father, and both wearing pink, Rowe rode off.