As Chris Andrews of Fort Myers came across the finish line at last Saturday’s Miracle Limbs Courage In Motion Benefit Bike Ride, she looked at the gal who’d finished just minutes before her and said, “She kicked my butt!”
Andrews was referring to Debra Santoro, from Tampa, a below-the-knee amputee and grinning-with-glee finisher of the charity ride. Santoro and her husband, John, who posed together at the finish for photos, made it look easy — barely sweaty and ready to chat it up with folks who finished around them.
“I try to stay active. I want to inspire other amputees and show them that you don’t have to be a couch potato,” said Andrews, who lost her leg after a horrific car accident 30 years ago.
Inspiring others was a common theme at Saturday’s fourth annual bike ride for the Naples-based organization. Though the annual event is ultimately a fundraiser, ask anyone in attendance and they’ll tell you that for them, the ride was about more than just raising money or reaching a fitness goal.
“There’s something about the organization. It just strikes a chord,” said Jane Avery-Du Bois, owner of the Naples and Estero Trek Bicycle Stores, which sponsored Saturday’s ride. “They’re just so passionate about what they do, and they are so focused on the amputees. For us, getting involved was an easy decision.”
But according to organization founder Bob Ayers, finding a bike store that thought the decision to help was an easy one, wasn’t all that, well, easy.
“We wanted to do a bike ride as a fundraiser, but we needed help on how to do it,” said Ayers, himself an amputee. “We went to a couple of local shops and didn’t get much enthusiasm, but when we met with Jane and Joe at the Trek Store, almost immediately they were onboard.”
For the past four years, the shop has supported the ride, and owner Avery-Du Bois says that of all the community events they support, the Miracle Limbs ride is one of her favorites.
“Every year there are a number of amputees who come and participate, and from year to year you see their progress. It’s really inspiring,” she explained.
But one shouldn’t discount the fundraising aspect of the ride either, since where the funds go just adds to the feel-good nature of the event. According to Ayers, the goal for Saturday’s ride was to raise around $75,000. In his estimation, $75,000 can help between 15-30 amputees, though it’s hard to know exactly how many it will help due to the nature of the nonprofit’s work.
“How much we spend really depends on the amputee. Some don’t need a lot of financial aid, others need everything,” said Ayers.
And everything really does mean everything. Miracle Limbs Courage in Motion will help recent amputees with all manner of requests, from helping pay their rent while they start putting their lives back together, to offering guidance for selecting the right prosthesis and covering physical therapy costs.
But perhaps most importantly, the organization is there to be a friend to anyone who has lost a limb.
As Ayers and his wife Diana hustled around the event site Saturday, making sure everything was running smoothly, a tiny little girl came barreling up to Ayers. Instantaneously, Ayers wrapped the child in a giant bear hug, and asked her in Spanish how she was doing.
The child is 4-year-old Itzel Chavez, who lost her arm when she was 2. Born with a life-threatening tumor on her right arm, Chavez’ parents faced a tough decision: put her through intensive chemo, which would irreversibly damage her heart, or amputate the arm. Ultimately, they chose to amputate, and reached out to Miracle Limbs for support.
Though Itzel isn’t ready for a prosthetic yet — the attention span of a 4-year-old isn’t what it needs to be to make teaching her how to use it a worthwhile endeavor — Ayers insists the organization is around to help the Chavez family as long as they need assistance.
“We’re here for the long haul. At whatever point that they decide she’s ready for a prosthetic, we’ll work to get her whatever she needs,” says Ayers,
And for Chavez’s mother, Corina, that’s comforting to know.
“It’s really nice to have this organization to help you when you’re going through things you never thought would happen to you, and that they’ll be around to help you for years to come.”