FRAMINGHAM – Garret Lewush usually tows a 10-year-old boxer, Buzz, and an 8-year-old pug-husky mix, or “hug,” Moxie, in the sidecar of his two-wheel-drive Ural motorcycle. Other times, he packs scuba gear and an icebox.
Eight-, nine- and 10-years-olds stormed that silver cab on Thursday morning, and mounted a Russian motorbike whose gas tank came up to their ribs. Nearby, children wrenched the throttles of Harley-Davidson’s Iron 883 and Honda’s VTX 1300.
Enveloped by the thunder of combustion, you had to know American Sign Language to converse without interruption. Conveniently, all of the students and teachers at The Learning Center for the Deaf are fluent.
“I got on the motorcycle,” Framingham’s Dominick Scanzillo, 8, said through a sign language interpreter. “It was more than an earthquake, it was like the universe was collapsing on itself.”
“And it really tickles.”
Deaf and hard of hearing students scrutinized the motorcycles, and felt their sounds. Some could hear the bikes, as loud as they were. The children beamed and swarmed and coaxed each other on. But the show-and-tell was somber, too.
The bikers came to promote a memorial ride this fall in honor of Ben Hollingsworth, who attended preschool and elementary school at The Learning Center for the Deaf in Framingham.
Hollingsworth, 22, died of traumatic brain injury on Sept. 24, 2016, after he fell on a ramp while wake-boarding. “Ben didn’t ride motorcycles, but he loved all things exciting, fast,” said his mom, Carol Hollingsworth.
Ben Hollingsworth interned at East Walpole’s Hollingsworth & Vose Co., where his father, Valentine, is president. Some of the manufacturer’s union workers, who happen to drive motorcycles, decided to organize a ride to benefit the learning center.
“It’s short notice. A lot of people say it takes a year to put a ride together. We’re doing this in like three to four months,” said Lewush, who works at the company’s paper mill. On Sept. 16, bikers will ride 16 miles through central Massachusetts to reach hot dogs, hamburgers and a raffle for Red Sox tickets in West Groton.
The Learning Center for the Deaf is the largest school for deaf and hard of hearing children in New England. It runs the pre-K-12 Marie Philip School and the Walden School, a residence for emotionally challenged students ages 8 to 22. There are 215 students among them.
The center also funds research and runs an outpatient clinic where audiologists evaluate speech, inspect ears and sell hearing aids. Soon, the center plans to open a cultural center and museum.
“To see and feel and touch and get to sit on motorcycles is very cool for them,” Shelley Reese, the center’s chief advancement officer, said. “Some of them can hear the motorcycles, and some of them can’t but they can feel the vibrations. So it’s really cool for them to have a sensory experience.”
Danielle Sprague, 27, first rode a motorcycle while a fetus in her mother’s belly. “When I was a baby, my father would put me on the gas tank between his legs and he’d take me around the back yard.” She rode in back as soon as her legs reached the pegs, and her litter sister envied her.
Sprague brought her Harley-Davidson Iron 883 to Thursday’s event. “Its so loud. Being deaf it makes a difference, I really feel more in tune to the machine,” Sprague said. “Especially given the fact that I can’t hear, the louder the bike the better, so I feel like when I ride the bike we become one.”
Waylon Young, 8, of Framingham, said he wants to get a motorcycle just like Sprague’s when he is older. “Motorcycles are so cool,” Young said. “I love the feeling of the vibration, it’s so powerful.”
The Ben Hollingsworth Memorial Ride 2017 is Sept. 16, 10:30 a.m., at Stanley Frankzak Memorial Park, 219 Townsend Road, West Groton. Register (drivers for $ 20, passengers for $ 5) between 8:30 a.m. and 10:15 a.m.
Jonathan Dame can be reached at 508-626-3919 or [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @DameReports