Reader Story: Let Freedom Ring!

A 9-11 motorcycling ride moves one rider to tears

By Phyllis Lamattina, Staten Island, New York

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I took the weekend MSF course shortly after September 11, 2001. It was a challenging year for me. I made it through a serious illness and like every other American, my life was changed by the events of that fateful Tuesday morning. I also turned 40, but that didnt bother me all that much as I was grateful for regaining my health. These things made me realize that life is a precious gift and we need to enjoy our days here on earth to the fullest. So on a chilly weekend that October, I enrolled in and passed the motorcycle safety school in Yonkers, New York, and was granted a motorcycle license by the State of New York. That weekend forever changed my life and I had gained a newfound freedom.

Phyllis Lamattina and her Harley-Davidson Heritage Softail.

Although it took more than six years, this past January I finally bought a brand new Harley-Davidson Heritage Softail and patiently waited for spring to arrive in New York City to get some miles on my new baby!

My first ever motorcycle run was a few weeks ago called the Freedom Run which ironically benefited the Feal Good Foundation, an organization dedicated to helping the first responders of 9-11 who are now suffering with illnesses because of their selfless acts on that day. I participated with my local H.O.G chapter and it was a day that I will not soon forget, if ever.

I felt like a child at the circus. I didnt know where to look first! Although the run was sponsored by the Bergen County Harley-Davidson/Buell dealership, it seemed as though every motorcycle manufacturer was well represented. Several clubs wore their colors with pride. Close to 2,000 bikes participated. In typical biker fashion, people complimented each other on their rides and exchanged pleasantries. I felt like I was at a family reunion with a few thousand of my closest relatives.

Riders gather for the Freedom Run.

The weather gods cooperated as it was a perfectly dry, 70-degree, breezy, sunny day. The police escorted run started in Hackensack, New Jersey, traveled over the George Washington Bridge into Manhattan, down the FDR Drive, under Battery Park up past Ground Zero and ended back in New Jersey for a barbeque in Liberty State Park overlooking the Manhattan skyline.

But the truest sense of pride and emotion overwhelmed me as I rode out of the Battery Park underpass and up West Street in Manhattan past the former World Trade Center site, now called Ground Zero. Tears welled in my eyes and a chill came over my body as I thought of that day almost seven years ago. I said a silent prayer and composed myself as spectators, pedestrians and tourists on a double-decker bus cheered us bikers on. The entire route was filled with people taking pictures of us on their cell phones, drivers honking their vehicle horns, children on their parents shoulders waving and people simply saying thank you. I was so proud to be a biker participating in such a great cause.

It was the “aha moment” that people talk about when they have a life changing experience. This most certainly was one of mine. I ride because I am a free spirit. I ride because I am a strong American woman who loves being in the wind and experiencing the aesthetic beauty of this amazing country on a motorcycle and it makes me feel great. I ride to participate in events like this one that bring attention to worthy causes.

Freedom is one of the reasons why we were attacked on 9-11. Freedom is what bikers represent. Freedom is something which should be cherished and celebrated. Living free each day says “Eff You” to the terrorists who try to derail our way of life.

I am ready for a new riding season and meeting new friends on my two-wheeled travels. And, I thank God every day for having the good fortune of health, a motorcycle and freedom.

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