CENTREVILLE, Va. — It’s not every day that Shea Megale gets to ride around town on a Harley.
But yesterday the spirited 8-year-old, who suffers from spinal muscular atrophy, got to trade in her wheelchair for a trip on a roaring “Fatboy Softail.”
“It’s so fast, so darn fast,” she declared after about 30 Harley-Davidson aficionados in the Fairfax Hog bikers’ club rumbled up in front of her house to kick off the second annual ice-cream outing they call the “Ride for Shea.”
Sporting an American flag bandanna on her head, a pair of light-blue sunglasses, red sneakers and a black Harley-Davidson T-shirt, Shea was all smiles and ready to ride.
“It means the world to me that they do this,” Shea, eyes sparkling, said to a reporter.
And she rode. Shea, her brother Matt, 13, her sister Kelly, 14, and her dad, Larry Megale, were loaded onto Harleys in front of their home and brought to nearby Milwaukee Frozen Custard in Chantilly, where the festivities were topped by ice cream and laughs.
Shea, who enjoyed a vanilla ice-cream cone with sprinkles on top, also received gifts of stuffed animals and a Harley hat and T-shirt, when the convoy of motorcycles made a stop at Patriot Harley-Davidson in Fairfax along the way.
Patriot Harley is the headquarters of the Fairfax Hog Club, which embarks on regular outings and motorcycle runs. Members recently participated in the massive Rolling Thunder Memorial Day run in the District.
Yesterday’s event was organized by Armand Mancini, a Hog Club member and a neighbor and friend of Shea and the Megale family in the Virginia Run section of Centreville.
Although a bit of misty rain fell toward the end of the afternoon festivities, the sun shined brightly through most of the ride, which appeared to do more than bring a smile to a little girl who faces big challenges in life.
It also symbolized how not all acts of charity are the work of big foundations, companies or governments. Sometimes it’s just about a group of people in a community who decide to devote several hours on a Saturday afternoon to doing good.
The “Ride for Shea” is not the only community support for Shea, according to Shea’s mother, Megan Megale. For the past seven years, she said, the neighbors and members of Centreville area communities have held an annual “Walk for Shea.”
Mrs. Megale said more than 600 people turned up for the walk this year, raising some $27,000 for research into spinal muscular atrophy, a disease of cells in the spinal cord that produces weakness in the muscles of the legs and arms and can affect muscles of the tongue, head and neck.
While the proceeds from the “Walk for Shea” would have been hard to repeat, the thrill of yesterday’s ride was hard to match.
Before the ride started, Mr. Mancini stood on his front lawn with his son Matt, 13, greeting biker friends as they rallied before rolling as a group to Shea’s house a few blocks away.
“Mostly all of us pretty much work for a living and we ride as often as we can,” Mr. Mancini said, as the bikers, many of whom live in the Virginia Run area, came rumbling through his upscale neighborhood.
Some of the riders brought their own children along and most stuffed a handful of cash into a box set up on Mr. Mancini’s lawn marked “Donations for Shea.”
“I’ve lived in the neighborhood for a while and I’ve known the Megales for a while,” said Dan Edwards, who brought his daughter Emily, 13, along for the ride.
“It’s a good cause,” Mr. Edwards said.
Mr. Mancini reflected on how inspiring a person Shea is and recalled how the idea for the ride came to him when he found out that she is in love with motorcycles, just as he is.
“A couple of years ago, I asked her if she wanted to go for a ride and her eyes just lit up,” he said, noting that Shea has “pretty much through her life not had use of her legs and has had other ailments that she’s had to deal with.”
Pausing a moment, Mr. Mancini added: “She’s a beautiful young lady. Whenever you’re around her, you get more out of it than you could possibly give.”
Later, after members of the Fairfax Hog Club had lifted and strapped a grinning Shea onto the front of Mr. Mancini’s motorcycle, tears welled up in Mrs. Megale’s eyes.
“It’s just overwhelming, just the love and support that people we don’t know, that they would take time on their Saturday to do this for her,” Mrs. Megale said.