Healing Run

The George O. Spain Jr. Memorial Healing Run is the Northwest Iowa American Legion Riders (ALR) main fundraiser in the summer months. We figure we want to find ways to help veterans and their families in our area, so we may as well have fun doing it! In a nutshell, we hold a poker-style motorcycle run the second Saturday of every September. Twenty-five bucks gets you in, all vehicles are welcome. We have food and an auction afterwards, oh my! It’s a good time, trust me.

About the Healing Run

“So, what do we call this thing,” one voice called from the end of the crowded table. The other eight leather-clad bikers all looked up from their notes. “We can’t just call it ‘The Poker Run.’ That’s kind of stupid.” Several bikers leaned back in their chairs. One signalled the waitress. The spring 2007 meeting of the Executive Committee for the Northwest Iowa chapter of the American Legion Riders (ALR) was going into it’s second hour. “Well, we’re raising money to help cover medical expenses,” said Seamus (pronounced “SHAY-muss,” meaning “James” in Gaelic), “why don’t we call it the Healing Run. I mean, we’re using the money to help people heal, why not just call it that?” A worried look on the onetime soldier’s normally cheerful face, he continued, “If this works out, we can really make a f***ing difference in someone’s life.” As the chapter’s Chaplain for the year, Seamus tended to his tattooed flock of over a hundred souls with the dedication (and linguistic choices) one may expect from a former Marine. There were nods from the others. “I like it,” said the chapter’s President. Everyone in the ALR has military ties; most are veterans. But Skunk was one of the rare members who was still in the military serving full-time as Sergeant Major in the Iowa Army National Guard in Sioux City and also the Le Mars unit’s First Sergeant on drill weekends – a fact one could see by glancing at the Red Bull patch on his leather vest. “Let’s go with it.” He ran his hand over his shaved head and glanced around the table at his officers. “All in favor, say ‘Aye.'” The Northwest Iowa ALR was a growing organization in early 2007, gaining members every month. But as with many organizations, the larger the membership grew, the more likely it became for a member to suffer illnesses. This fact was driven home when one of the members was diagnosed with brain cancer. “One day everything was fine,” George Spain quietly explained, “but the next I was having trouble getting my kickstand down. I’d pull into the garage and damned if I just couldn’t get my leg to push the stand down…” The doctors wanted to operate. “Guess I’ll have to shave my head again,” George commented. “Thought I was done with that when I got out of the Army.” Both George and his wife spent decades in the Army, serving in Germany. Realizing that George and his family were going to need help, the ALR decided to hold a fundraiser.

“It’s decided then,” Skunk declared, leaning back in his chair. “Every year we’ll hold a fundraiser called the Healing Run. The money will go to help someone cover medical bills and take care of their family. And we won’t announce who gets the funds until after the run.” The Executive Committee packed up their notes and headed outside to their motorcycles.

Later that year, the first Healing Run took place. All morning motorcycles and cars pulled up to the American Legion in Le Mars. Donations were taken, entry fees processed, jokes told. One car held George, who, in spite of his cancer was determined to go on the run. “I may not have much to spare these days,” he said as he dropped an extra five dollars into the hat, ever-present smile on his face, “but I always have something to give someone in need.” All afternoon motorcycles and cars pulled up to the Chesterfield in Sioux City, where prizes were awarded, totals tallied, jokes told. When it seemed that all the bikes had arrived, Skunk, Bobbo, Snowman and a few others took the stage to draw door prizes.

After the door prizes, Skunk remained on the stage and motioned for quiet. “George, can you come up here for a second?”

The retired First Sergeant glanced around, smiling, then got up to make his way to the stage. “Did I win a door prize? If it’s something pink, I’ll give it to Corky,” he said as he weaved between a couple tables. “He looks good in pink.” As George got to the stage, his white hat covering the scars from his recent surgery, Skunk leaned into the microphone. “Between the poker run, donations, and the auction we raised just over a thousand dollars,” he said. “George, we’d like to give it to you to help with all the bills you and your family are facing.”

George Spain
George Spain

George’s smile slowly faded as the realization sunk in that all his friends had come together that day for the sole purpose of helping him. “Are you serious?” he whispered, gazing at the assemblage. “I thought I was here to help someone else, and you were here to help me.”

The next year, 2008, the Healing Run was officially renamed the George O. Spain Jr. Memorial Healing Run. It continues to this day as a way for the ALR to help those in need, always with George in mind. “I was here to help someone, and you were here to help me.”