PEPPERELL -- After eight years of roaring motorcycle engines, the smell of burning charcoal and suspense, Malissa Mignosa, organizer of Ayva's Ride, is calling it quits.
Not because she's tired or is giving up, but because she and daughter Ayva have had the best of happy endings: After having been diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia and treated for several years, Ayva has been declared a survivor of the disease.
"Organizing the rides was so much work and took so much of my time," said Mignosa. "Plus, Ayva has a little brother now. So I decided to stop while we were ahead. Besides, it's getting tougher and tougher to get donations because there seems to be some kind of benefit happening every weekend. But it's been wonderful doing it all these years and I'm sure we'll find other ways to help going forward.
"We're just ecstatic that she's well," continued Mignosa, a resident of Shattuck Street. "Ayva's 9 years old now and it's wonderful. She'd just turned 2 when she first became sick then had treatment from ages 2 to 4. During that time, she attended preschool and elementary school just like every other kid. But finally, her check ups went down to once a year. But she was so little at the time she was diagnosed and treated that I don't think she remembers much about it. We talk to her to remind her of what she's been through and to tell her that after that, there's nothing she can't overcome now."
For the last seven years, local motorcycle enthusiasts have held an annual rally and ride in Ayva's name, raising thousands of dollars each time that was donated to various charities.
"The very first ride was the most emotional for me," said Mignosa, recalling how Ayva's Ride began. "Friends had gone ahead and put it on while Ayva was still in the hospital. The amount of people who came together and the support that was shown for Ayva was unbelievable. We've worked really hard every year since to make the ride as efficient as possible. It takes a good five or six months to make sure everything is in place. Luckily, we've had no mishaps in the eight years we've doing it."
This year's ride, to be held July 26, is open to all comers and a big group is expected to gather that morning as they have since 2007 when Ayva's Ride was inaugerated.
Describing a loop that runs through New Hampshire, the course of the ride follows the back roads of New Hampshire instead of the highway, making for little traffic and few intersections to slow things down. Police in the towns the ride will travel through have also been notified of and will be on hand to help keep things moving.
Cyclists rallying at the VFW in Pepperell, make a looping tour, and then finish back where they began. Afterwards, around 1 p.m. when the riders have all returned, there will be a big cookout and get together. Registration for the ride is from 9-10 a.m. with the ride itself beginning at 10 a.m. Anybody with a bike can sign up for the ride but need not be a rider to attend the cookout. Whew!
If past rides are any indication, this year's cookout should include live music, raffles, and of course, food.
Also as in past years, organizational duties will prevent Mignosa from participating in the ride herself but she will be represented by husband Sean on his brand new Harley Davidson road glider. Depending on how persuasive they are, Ayva's parents hope to convince Ayva to ride with her father now that she's old enough.
"We never know how many riders we'll end up with," said Mignosa of expected participation. "The weather always makes or breaks it. Plus, we have no prior registation. So every year, we just keep our fingers crossed and hope for the best. We've never been disappointed and most years we average around 200 riders.
"But this will be our last year because Ayva became a survivor in May of this year; five years from the end of her treatment and seven years since she was first diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia," said Mignosa.
Mignosa guessed that the annual rides have raised an average of $7,500 for charity every year.
In past years, Ayva's Ride has raised money for the Margaret McGarry Fund for pancreatic research, area hospitals, the Dana Farber Institute, St. Jude's Children's Research Hospital, and sometimes for individual families dealing with the same issues as the Mignosa's did with Ayva.
This year's final ride will raise money for the Make a Wish Foundation as it did once before. But that time, said Mignosa, it rained and not as much money was raised as there could have.
Anyone who would like to take part in a final ride for Ayva can learn more by contacting her mother at email@example.com and typing in "Ayva's Ride" in subject line.
Ready to end the tradition of Ayva's Ride, Mignosa said she will never forget the outpouring of love and support by friends, family and often complete strangers who particpated over the years.
"It's just amazing the support people show when a sick child needs help," said Mignosa. "The support we've had over the years from the surrounding communities was wonderful. It just means the world to us."