Overland Park & Leawood

18-year-old Leawood teen finally gets to ride in breast cancer charity event she organized seven years ago

David Cary of Lee’s Summit was in the pink Sunday morning at the Overland Park Sam’s Club on 135th Street as he lifted a forkful of pink-tinted pancakes to his mouth.

Syrup dripped from the fork to the plastic plate as the burly biker dressed in a pink T-shirt emblazoned with “Riding for Mom, P.S., Love Ya” and a pink-and-black headscarf paused while eating breakfast.

“The past couple of years I did this ride to help breast cancer research,” Cary said, his eyes misting. “This year, it means even more to me. My mom died of brain cancer Wednesday.”

Cary was one of more than 150 people who took to the streets in the seventh annual Real Bikers Wear Pink charity motorcycle ride.

Organized by Megan Rowe when she was just 12 years old, the event over the years has attracted people from all walks of life, each somehow affected by cancer.

Bucky Williams of Raymore and his daughter, 17-year-old Katie, sat across the aisle from Cary and his 23-year-old daughter Jennifer.

“I work at Sam’s Club, a sponsor of this event,” said Williams, who lost an aunt to cancer. “It’s pretty cool that a middle school kid had enough gumption and put enough effort into something she believed in.”

Outside Sam’s Café, as Cary and others finished a free breakfast from Chris Cakes, Rowe, an 18-year-old Blue Valley Southwest graduate about to enter her freshman year at the University of Oklahoma, circulated through the pink-clad crowd.

The self-professed once-shy teen received hugs and accolades from people three times her age.

“Thanks for everything you’ve done,” said Patti Kelsey of Shawnee, a fashionable biker’s cap covering hair growing back following treatment for Stage 3 breast cancer. “We all appreciate it.”

Kelsey trembled with emotion as she snapped a picture of her husband, Craig, and friends Bob Poste and Vivian Stewart as they prepared to saddle up for the 100-mile ride.

She explained that Real Bikers Wear Pink is a symbol of support for everyone touched by cancer.

“My cancer is in remission,” said Kelsey. “To me these people here today are saying, ‘I want to help you live.’”

Rowe hatched the idea for Real Bikers Wear Pink after learning that a couple of her friends lost their mothers to breast cancer.

Not long after this discovery, her dad, Brad, purchased a motorcycle.

The notion for a ride to raise money for breast cancer was solidified one day when Rowe and her mom followed him as he rode the bike.

“He had on a pink T-shirt,” said Rowe. “My mom and I laughed and joked around that yes, real bikers do wear pink.”

Each year Rowe has designed a commemorative pink T-shirt with a different theme for riders and volunteers to wear.

“It’s really cool to see all these people wearing pink, including men like my dad,” she said. “Although more women than men get breast cancer, it’s an equal opportunity disease. I wanted to do something to help find a cure. This is a real grassroots effort.”

More than $22,000 has been raised over the years, including an estimated $2,500 this year. Funds go to Susan G. Komen For the Cure and are earmarked for breast cancer research.

“It’s hard to put into words what this event means to me,” said Rowe as she surveyed the riders Sunday morning. “It’s people getting together for a common hope. You never know — some of the funds raised might just help find that cure.”

Jackson Rowe, Megan’s 21-year-old brother, expressed gratitude for his sister’s passion.

“I’m just behind the scenes,” said Jackson, who drove the event’s support vehicle. “She’s amazing. I’m here to help her.”

Colin Ore of Grandview leaned against his motorcycle as he waited for the start of the ride that would take him and fellow cyclists on a route through Johnson County and into Miami County.

“Sure, I’ve been touched by cancer,” said Ore, whose father died of lymphoma.

“This ride is special for many reasons, including the fact that it’s smaller than some of them, a bit more personalized.”

Rowe, along with her dad, prepared to address the sea of riders dressed in fluorescent pink before opening the 2013 ride.

Her voice cracked as she thanked family, friends, participants and the community for supporting her dream.

“I am thankful to share with you the experience of this event that has changed lives and the way I see the world,” said Rowe. “It’s bringing people together to make a difference.”

As Rowe wrapped up her final appreciation speech, she made a surprise announcement.

“As you know, I head to college this fall,” said Rowe. “Up until yesterday we thought this was the end of the road for Real Bikers Wear Pink. But TAPS of K.C. is going to take it over, so we’ll see you next year.” TAPS stands for Traffic and Public Safety.

Applause and whistles rippled through the crowd as Rowe, dressed in jeans, cowboy boots and a signature Real Bikers Wear Pink T-shirt, donned a helmet and climbed on her dad’s silver motorcycle.

For the first time, Rowe could leave the event’s details to volunteers and participate as a rider.

More than 80 motorcycles rumbled from Sam’s parking lot promptly at 9 a.m. to embark on a ride that Rowe declared has been a personal journey of a lifetime.