On Sept. 14, a group of motorcyclists will embark on a 360-mile ride across Southeast Minnesota to honor the memory of Travis Donze, a motorcycle enthusiast who died eight years ago from leukemia.
The fundraiser, family and friends say, captures the spirit of a man who, even in the midst of his illness, would ask his mom to buy gifts for the sick children on his hospital ward so they could celebrate Christmas.
Money from the motorcycle ride will go to Med-City Foundation, a non-profit founded in 2014 to support the non-medical needs of patients battling blood cancers in Rochester.
The ride represents a step up from last year's more modest event, which drew six riders and raised more than $6,000, mostly from friends and family, said Kristina Wright-Peterson, the Med-City Foundation's founder.
"It was very kind of grassroots, thrown together by myself and the family. And this year, we said, 'We want to get more of the community involved,'" Wright-Peterson said.
Donations flow in
Cathy Donze, Travis's mom, said the memorial flowed from a desire to honor her son, the middle of five children, but like a motorcycle ride, it has had unexpected turns.
Travis was 33 when he died. A couple of years after his passing, Cathy's mom and her eight siblings began to pool their money around Christmas and donate it to the Mayo Clinic Hospital — Methodist Campus floor where her son spent most of his time being treated for leukemia. The gift was to help families and patients celebrate Christmas.
One of the first beneficiaries of the Donze family's generosity was a woman battling leukemia. She and her husband had five children. The donations allowed the woman to leave the hospital and spend Christmas with her family at a hotel where her children could also swim and play.
But soon, the funding amounts grew so large that the nurse who was managing the money felt uncomfortable handling such a sum. The nurse recommended that Cathy Donze get in contact with the Med City Foundation and Wright-Peterson.
Why a motorcycle ride?
As money came in, Med-City and the Donze family began to brainstorm on ways to establish a fundraiser in Travis' name. One day, Wright-Peterson called Cathy Donze and told her of an unusual experience she had, Cathy said. She dreamed that Travis had come to her and told her that they should host a motorcycle rally.
Wright-Peterson had never met Travis. Nor did she know that Travis had bought a Harley-Davidson motorcycle just a few months before he was diagnosed with leukemia. He rode it for only 500 miles before his death.
Wright-Peterson said the ride is meant to bring awareness to the needs of blood cancer patients, particularly their need for lodging.
Many such patients, when they come to Mayo Clinic for treatment, stay for as long as nine months. Even when they are not at the hospital, these patients need to live within 30 minutes of Rochester in case a fever hits and they need treatment right away.
As a result, some out-of-town patient families pay hundreds of dollars per night to stay in a hotel or spend thousands to rent a house.
"When you have a blood cancer, your cancer is literally in your entire body," Wright-Peterson said. "It's not like in your pancreas or lungs. It's your entire body. And so the first symptom of something not going well is a fever, and they generally need to have treatment within an hour of that."
Wright-Peterson said Cathy has told her that Travis would talk about how lucky his family was to have the resources to pay for such lodging. He could see that other patients were not so lucky.
That same insight is what prompted him to ask his mother to buy Christmas presents for the patients on his floor.
"He didn't think anyone should go without Christmas, and so (Cathy) just really wanted to keep that spirit alive," Wright-Peterson said.
The event is being held at the Olmsted County Fairgrounds, 4-H Building. The ride starts at 11 a.m., with a lunch stop in Minneiska and other stops in Lanesboro and Rushford.
Riders must register. They can pre-register online for $15 per rider or same-day register at 10 a.m. Saturday at the event for $20 per rider.
There will also be a dinner, live music, cash bar and band from 5 to 8 p.m. after the ride.