The mom and the biker
REED CITY — It’s not about her, she said. But it’s not about him, he said. True. It sure is about them though. It’s about two people who care less about their own role and more about the other’s efforts. As a result, Make-A-Wish wins.
For Mike Witbeck and his mom, Marie, the Make-A-Wish kids have a hold on their hearts.
Mike is from Sand Lake. His mom lives in Reed City.
She said Mike rides for Make-A-Wish and she just tries to help raise funds for him to donate. She roots him on. She buys a T-shirt. She sells baked goods.
He insists his mom should get the credit. “She’s the fundraiser. I just ride a bike.
“I go pay $90 to ride, and I go ride. In 1992, we started out with about $300 to donate, but now it’s well over $900 each ride. That’s not me. That’s my mom’s doing.
This year he didn’t sign up, but she just kept right on raising money. Somebody had to ride. She’s 76. He’s not. He says she’s “probably easily raised $30,000 over the years from this Reed City area and Cadillac. It’s unbelievable what she’s done, and keeps doing.
“You know what she does? She goes out and does this for her son. So I’ll ride. And the Make-A-Wish kids get more money. I missed a few years, but I think I rode in 17 of these rides since ‘92.
“I’m telling you, she’s done the work. She made rhubarb pies and strawberry-rhubarb pies to sell, and when she heard Potvin (State Representative Phil Potvin) and another guy was going to be helping at Habitat for Humanity in Cadillac, she ran right up there and got a $50 donation from each of them. She does a lot of good, that lady.”
Mike went on to say that his mom also is a volunteer driver for people needing rides to doctors or elsewhere, “and I love it. I work for the seniors too. Mom’s a nurse, and they stay caregivers forever.
“I love her so much. She works hard. Know what? We get a medal around us for the child we ride for, and one year I just gave her the medal.” There was a hesitation as he remembered the moment. “I’m telling you that meant the world to her. She doesn’t ride a tenth of a mile, and yet she deserved it more than I did.
“When I started in ‘92, maybe there was 100 on the ride. Now there’s about a thousand or more. There’s nothing like a Make-A-Wish Ride.
“It’s a life-changing experience. One girl’s wish was that they’d make a commercial to teach people to treat her and the others like any other kid. We saw the rough cut, and then before the commercial came out, she died. But she got her wish. She got her commercial. But that year, there were no dry eyes at the banquet.
“One guy handed out letters that told his story and thanked everybody. He was there on total life support.
“Another guy did the ride. He rode the 300 miles. He had one arm. One leg. What an inspiration.”
Riders arrive in Traverse City on Thursday, July 28. “Used to be two big coaches brought them. Now maybe 20. Semis haul the bikes. Around 6 a.m. Friday, the bikers head for Big Rapids. Believe me, there are a lot of hills to get there.” They come right through Reed City.
They’ll stay overnight at Ferris, then ride to St. John’s/DeWitt, and on to Chelsea. “They have an unbelievably huge party. There will be a lot of tears.”
“It’s a tough ride. They suggest you have at least 1,000 miles in before you try it. They bring along paramedics and doctors. Rest breaks are fully catered.
The conversation got serious again. “You know, my mom even buys a shirt every year.”
And then a confession. Mike did not even sign up to ride this year. “I thought I was done with it. Then she started pounding the pavement and hauling in the money. Baking pies and chasing politicians. It’s so well worth it.
“These kids make you think about a lot of things. Things like what if you only had a year to live? I’d say, don’t change me. Don’t change who I am. Don’t change mom or change who she is or what she does. I’d have a motto burned on my forehead: I ride because I can.
“Someday I’ll write something about what I’ve learned on a bike. I ask God to ride with me. He does.
“I was sitting thinking about quitting one time, and this woman told me not to. I said I heard there was a horrible hill up ahead, and I didn’t think I could make it. She asked me if I’d ever seen that hill, and I said, no, but I was exhausted. She just looked at me and said, ‘How do you know you can’t make it. Don’t you think you should at least see the hill before you quit?’
“I went on. It didn’t look so bad. And then I started going up it. Nobody ever said just wait until you see the view from the top of that hill, but when I got there, I knew it was worth every drop of sweat. And I thought about those kids. And the hill wasn’t that bad.”
Mike said they give riders bracelets to wear “with the kid’s name they’re riding for on it, and when you start wondering what the h--- am I doing this for, you look at your wrist and know. That kid depends on you. All I have to do is ride a bike. They have to get chemo.
“The hill is NEVER as bad as it looks. I use that to keep going. It works.”
He’ll be signed up. His mom will bake pies. Together they’ll help another Make-A-Wish kid. It’s not about whether the pie baker or the biker does more, but together they make a difference.
It’s not about him. It’s not about her. It’s about the kids who hold their hearts hostage. And it’s about their kind of hearts that offer the kids hope.