Legion Riders participate in ABATE training Saturday prior to today’s opening day of the 2011 Legacy Run. Photo by James V. Carroll

Safety first

"Uncle" Dick Woods has served as chief road captain for all five previous American Legion Legacy Runs; he's holding down the same role for this year's Run to Minneapolis. And his philosophy for the ride hasn't changed one bit since the start: safety first, everything else second.

And that has made for some difficult decisions for Woods, a member of Converse, Texas, Post 593's Sons of The American Legion squadron. That's what happens when you're leading a motorcycle procession of anywhere from 250-300 bikes traversing not only U.S. highways, but also busy city streets.

"Every year I've had to put someone off the run," Woods says. "Sometimes it was with some regret. Sometimes it wasn't. It's not my decision. It's a decision based on the safety of the group. That's all I care about. Safety has to be first. Then we want to raise some money for (The American Legion Legacy Scholarship Fund). And third, we want to have a hell of a good time."

Woods was closely watching safety training Saturday afternoon in Indianapolis. The training, conducted by ABATE (American Bikes Aimed Toward Education) Indiana officials, is mandatory for all new road captains, assistant road captains and tail gunners. The ride has 12 of each, not including the advance team. Legacy Run Coordinator Bill Sloan says new captains, assistants and tail gunners many time comes from recommendations from Legacy Run veterans. "Ideally, we want people to step up and volunteer, but we do get veteran road captains who will nominate new ones," Sloan says.

That happened, sort of, with Department of Georgia Legionnaires Joseph "Troll" Shores, the department's Legion Riders chaplain. Shores - who took part in the ABATE training Saturday - participated in his first Legacy Run last year and was approached by road captain and friend George "Sarge" Robinson to serve as Robinson's assistant this year.

"I really enjoyed the run last year, and I made plans to be at this one," Shores says. "It wasn't in my plans to be an assistant captain, but George asked, and I told him I was. Sometimes you've got to step up and help."

Off to a strong startAmerican Legion National Commander Jimmie L. Foster was at Kenneth N. Dowden Wayne American Legion Post 64 in Indianapolis Saturday for pre-run festivities. Foster praised the Legion Riders for the work they've done and the awareness they've raised for the organization.

"One the best things to come around in The American Legion in the last few years is The American Legion Riders," Foster said. "You give us another venue and another member of our family we didn't have before."

The Post 64 Legion family hosted a dinner for the ride participants; prior to that, Foster accepted Legacy Fund donations. More than $51,000 was donated, bringing to year-to-date total to $175,675.

One of the contributors was Megan Smith, a freshman at Hamilton Southeastern High School in nearby Fishers. Smith has conducted fundraising programs every year of the Run to raise money for the Legacy Fund. This year she presented Foster with $400.

Could be a recordMore than 250 will start the ride today. More than 300 have registered; more than 80 passengers will accompany the riders. "It may be the largest run we've had," Sloan says. "We had a lot of people register in the past 60 days."

After departing Post 64 at 8 a.m. today, the ride will stop at American Legion Post 47 in Fort Wayne, Ind., for lunch before ending up in Mt. Pleasant, Mich.