Ride of Life biker completes national ride for ALS awareness


Aug. 27, 2014 at 1:27 p.m.

He grips the handlebars on his 2013 Harley-Davidson, "Big Country," enduring the hail beating down on his leather-enwrapped fists.

The denim biker vest (splashed with a collection of Harley pins) of Randy Smith's late wife, Sophia, hugs the rear seat as if she's riding along.

Driving the winding highway in Yellowstone National Park at stymied speeds, Smith is determined to make it through the poor weather.

He had to keep going - for Sophia, for her battle with ALS, to fulfill his promise.

"My hands hurt like hell, but I wasn't about to let go," Smith, of Victoria, said. "I promised her I'd finish the bike ride, and I had to keep going."

More than two months ago, Smith departed Victoria - escorted out of the county by a police and Harley-riding team of supporters - on a national motorcycle ride in Sophia Smith's honor.

On her deathbed, Sophia battled ALS, or or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, more commonly known as Lou Gehrig's disease, which had robbed her of the ability to speak and walk and ride her beloved Harley any longer.

The once-vibrant Avon sales heavyweight made her husband promise that no matter what happened to her, he'd drive the motorcycle from coast-to-coast and dip his toes in both oceans.

It was a dream they both shared for many years: before heavy work schedules; before ALS.

On what Randy Smith dubbed the Ride of Life, he set out to finish the ride.

But he wasn't riding aimlessly. Smith had a purpose.

He chose to honor Sophia with Ride of Life by attempting to raise $2 million for Hospice of South Texas to rename the new inpatient center the Sophia Smith Center of Compassion.

He also used his ride to raise awareness about ALS, a fatal, progressive neurological disease that paralyzes a person's muscular function.

Smith didn't meet the goal, bringing in about $50,000 of the $2 million goal.

But Carl Schneider, of Hospice of South Texas, said Smith didn't fail.

"That was the only goal he didn't meet," Schneider said, mentioning Smith's tremendous efforts in spreading the word about ALS in more than 30 cities. "What he accomplished on this trip was astounding. It was really impressive."

Smith spent his tour speaking to Avon groups, Rotary Clubs and just about anyone who would listen.

"All I needed was for someone to see Victoria, Texas on my bike and that was an in for me to talk about ALS," Smith said.

While he was away - Smith returned to Victoria about two weeks ago - a national effort known as the Ice Bucket Challenge went viral across Facebook and other social media outputs.

Those challenged to pour ice water on their heads make a donation to ALS research groups, then challenge another person to take the challenge.

According to the ALS Association, a leader in global medical research for the disease, donations from the Ice Bucket Challenge have totaled about $90 million in recent weeks.

Smith is grateful to have been part of getting the word out, while the Ice Bucket Challenge was spreading nationwide.

"My main goal was awareness this whole time and because of the Ice Bucket Challenge you can now go up to someone and mention ALS and they know what you're talking about," he said. "You couldn't do that a few months ago."

After riding 16,041 miles in 66 days, Smith said he's ready to be home.

But Ride of Life is not over, he said.

There is more money to be raised, and he encourages those who have not yet donated toward ALS research, or taken the Ice Bucket Challenge, to consider donating to the Hospice of South Texas' new inpatient center.

And he plans on taking shorter trips on "Big Country" around the state to continue raising awareness for ALS.

"I am not failure on this. I got to see the United States through the handle bars of my Harley, that's every biker's dream," Smith said. "I approached this bike ride the same way I did when I was a caregiver for Sophia - one day at a time."

Smith said Sophia was with him on the ride.

Her biker vest made around the nation and will continue to follow him on Ride of Life.

"I never wanted to look back and wished I'd done something like this," he said. "We only have one day at a time. That's what she taught me."



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