Story and photos by John Hummer
Exponent staff writer
If you were riding around in your vehicle Sunday, July 30, chances are you had to dodge several bicyclists wherever you were heading. They were out in force for the 30th annual Wish-A-Mile® Bicycle Tour where over 1,000 cyclists made the 300-mile trek through Michigan to raise funds for Make-A-Wish Michigan.
The ride originated in Traverse City on Friday and finished at Michigan International Speedway on Sunday. The tour coincided with the WAM 50 on Sunday, a one-day, 50-mile ride that starts and finishes at MIS. More than 200 riders biked the WAM 50. Also returning this year was the WAM Jr., a half-mile bike ride on a portion of the MIS track for children ages 5 to 13.
Participants were expected to have raised some $2.5 million to help grant wishes for Michigan kids. Wish-A-Mile (WAM) bicycle riders earn money for Wish Heroes” dreams to come true through Make-A-Wish Michigan. Wish Heroes are children with life-threatening medical conditions.
One group of riders who made the long 300-mile trek down through Michigan was Team Miles for Smiles who rode for Emma Hood, 9, of Hillsdale. Emma is the great granddaughter of Columbia Township supervisor Bob Elrod.
Emma is battling Congenital Central Hypoventilation Syndrome (CCHS), a very rare mutation in the central nervous system that does not allow her to breathe when she sleeps. She sleeps on life support with the aid of a ventilator.
“I got emotional,” said Emma’s grandma, Pam Bendele. “It brought tears to my eyes when [Emma’s] Nurse Jenny came across, got off her bike, and gave her a hug.”
Emma was diagnosed with CCHS about two months after birth. She only weighed four pounds at birth.
“When she gets up, she can put the cap on her trach, and, with limitations, do everyday things,” said Emma’s mother, Amanda Hood. She said Emma is currently learning diaphragmatic pacing, which allows her to breathe without the ventilator.
Emma’s wish, when she was three, was to have a playset built, which she still uses to this day.
“My favorite things are the swing and slide,” Emma said.
“These kids get to experience so much with the help of all these people – and Make-A-Wish makes it possible,” said Emma’s mom. “It means more than you can imagine.”
Emma’s dad, Michael Hood, had high praise for the Make-A-Wish program as well.
“It’s a really positive experience for her,” he said. “She gets to grow up and see how lots of other people with similar disabilities have a huge support system of family and friends and strangers.”
Emma attends Gier Elementary School in Hillsdale and is going into fourth grade. School is quite normal for her with the help of a paraprofessional.
Jenny Kroncke (Nurse Jenny) has been Emma’s home nurse since she was a year-and-a-half old.
“It’s been everything – every emotion,” she said, when asked what it’s been like walking at Emma’s side through life. “It’s been special learning about her, and her family. She’s an amazing girl, just seeing her grow and overcoming what she has.
She doesn’t get to do things a lot of kids get to do, but it doesn’t seem to bother her. She’s got the best spirit and has a very curious mind.”
Once Emma fully learns the diaphragmatic pacing, Nurse Jenny may not be needed as much, which is a good thing, she confessed. She won’t be out of Emma’s life though.
“She’s not my child, but we have a very special bond,” Jenny said. “I live close by; I’ll be by all the time.”
Make-A-Wish Michigan has granted 35 wishes to kids residing in Jackson County over the last five years. There are seven children from Jackson County currently anticipating their wishes.
Dala Alderman of Jackson was at the finish line awaiting her husband and team “There Goes the Neighborhood” biking on behalf of her daughter, Lily, 13. Lily was a Wish Hero several years ago and is now a leukemia survivor.
“She’s been out of treatment three-and-a-half years,” said Alderman. For her wish, Lily went to the Disney resort called Aulani on the island of Oahu, Hawaii in August of 2013.
“It was very special to be given such a gift that we were able to spend time together as a family away from the hospital,” she said. “It was a trip of a lifetime that we would never be able to do on our own. It gave her a chance to be a normal kid.”
Lily is now living a normal life as a student at Western Middle School.
“She’s doing great,” Alderman said. “We are very thankful for Make-A-Wish.”
Jackson resident Dan Wawiernia, a parishioner at and member of St. Rita’s Knights of Columbus, was riding with Team Emily for his fifth WAM. This year he did the WAM 50. Team Emily is named after a young girl who passed away at age 13 from an inoperable brain tumor. Emily was Wawiernia’s great niece” classmate. She was a Wish Hero and had her wish of going to Disneyland granted through Make-A-Wish Michigan. Family and friends of Emily ride every year because of how much it meant to them, Wawiernia said.
“It’s so worthwhile to do,” he said. “As tired as we are and as hard as it is to bike those miles, it’s nothing compared to what those kids and those families have to do on a daily basis fighting the illnesses they have. Every dollar we can raise to help grant wishes for those kids makes it all worth it.”
For more information, visit www.michigan.wish.org or call their office at 800-622-WISH.