Photo: Scott Mullin / For Hearst Connecticut Media
DANBURY — With their engines roaring, hundreds of local motorcyclists embarked Sunday morning on a 40-mile ride to benefit Special Olympics.
An estimated 250 riders took off from the Harley-Davidson on Federal Road and headed to Farmington Polo Club, where they would join a group of motorcyclists who rode from Florida to Connecticut over the course of the week to raise money and awareness for Special Olympics. Thousands of other motorcyclists also rode to Farmington from satellite locations across the eastern seaboard, including in Canada, Maine, New York and Pennsylvania.
Called the Dream Ride Experience, the event is one of the biggest fundraisers for Special Olympics, an organization that provides athletic opportunities for people with intellectual disabilities.
The event has raised $ 6.2 million since Michael Bozzuto, CEO of Bozzuto’s, Inc, started the ride in 2001.
Volunteers hoped to break $ 2 million in donations this year, said Carlos Landrau, with Bozzuto’s, Inc. But he said the ride does more than just raise money.
“It provides experiences for athletes,” Landrau said. “They get exposed to a multitude of other athletes worldwide. They gain new friends worldwide.”
Some Special Olympics athletes came as far as Australia to volunteer or play in a unified swim meet on Saturday or the basketball game on Sunday in Farmington.
Riders said they have a good time, as well.
Steve Cornelio, of Stamford, has participated in the event multiple times and enjoys riding with a big group, while giving to a good cause.
“That’s what riding Harleys is about,” he said. ”It’s not just us.”
Alanna Licursi-Rich, Special Olympics local coordinator for Ability Beyond and the greater Danbury area, said the event provides crucial funding to cover events and keep costs down for participating athletes.
“Being a nonprofit, you rely on your fundraising,” she said. “This event alone is not only fun for the athletes to get to attend, but it provides awareness for what Special Olympics does.”
Licursi-Rich’s group offers 14 sports for about 180 athletes 21 and older.
Among them is Jason Vansickle, 41, who has been competing with Special Olympics for 20 years. The Danbury resident plays soccer, softball, basketball and alpine skiing and volunteers at events, such as the Dream Ride.
He said participating is fun and a good opportunity to meet new people.
This is one of the key benefits of Special Olympics, Licursi-Rich said. “Special Olympics provides them with the ability to meet new friends, work as a team, understand what it takes to compete,” she said.
She often reminds the athletes that it does not matter if they win a medal. What matters is that they have fun, she said.
“I try to teach them it’s really about being part of something and not just to win,” Licursi-Rich said.