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Sunday, September 28, 2003 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Motorcycle group takes nursing-home residents for a ride

Seattle Times Eastside bureau

The 30-plus motorcycles roared through the Providence Marianwood nursing home in Issaquah yesterday afternoon. One by one, the leather-clad riders cruised down the circular driveway and maneuvered their bikes to a standstill.

About 30 residents watched with eager curiosity from their wheelchairs. They'd been waiting six months for this day.

These weren't just any motorcycles. These were Harley-Davidsons, the U.S. motorcycle company that celebrated its 100th anniversary this year.

And this wasn't just any pit stop. Members of the Eastside Harley Owner's Group rode into Providence Marianwood for the fourth time in two years, in what is becoming a tradition.

"They're such an enthusiastic group," said Mary Tanji, 82, about the bikers. "It brings a lot of different excitement into our lives because this is so different."

Tanji, a Marianwood resident, is no stranger to motorcycles. She used to ride her own — a small Kawasaki — in the early '70s but has since become a Harley gal.

Riding on the motorcycle brings "the freedom of feeling the air rushing through you," Tanji explained. "And the feeling of being in your own control."

"They can feel the engine power," said John Lucarelli, a Harley group member. "The sound, the vibrations — it's a unique experience."

Even residents well over 90 looked forward to getting a ride.

Florence Keizer, 96, wore a Harley-Davidson scarf under her helmet, a Christmas present from her granddaughter.

Nursing aides used lifts to help some of the residents onto the back of the motorcycles and then strapped them on to ensure the utmost safety. Keizer, who was lifted and strapped onto the back seat of John Martin's bike, wore a smile on her face the entire ride.

"You've had the biggest smile of everybody here so far," Tommy Tucker said to Keizer when she was back in her wheelchair.

Keizer had wanted a Harley of her own when she was a young woman, except back in the 1930s it meant paying $450 — more than she could afford.

"That's what chrome costs you now," said Lori Martin, a nurse at Marianwood and secretary of the Eastside Harley group, based in Bellevue. Martin started the event with her husband when she realized how many residents had either owned bikes or always wanted one.

Whether the event is more fun for the riders or the residents is debatable. "I get so much more out of this than the residents possibly can," said Tami Lucarelli. "It's just ... I don't know. I can't tell you the blessing that I get from this."

The Harley group and the residents might seem an unlikely pairing, but the people participating yesterday had much in common, said Don Estill, director of the Eastside group.

Most of his Eastside riders are in their 40s and grew up admiring Harley-Davidsons. Many of the residents share that admiration.

"It's a good fit," said Cindy Sharek, Marianwood foundation director. "You wouldn't automatically think that, though."

Most residents who strap on helmets go for a short ride around Marianwood's parking garage and driveways. Some come just to watch. Others sit on the bikes but don't ride.

Tanji, being a former rider, enjoyed a longer-than-average ride around the neighborhood.

"Yeehaw!" Tanji called out as she rode back into the main driveway from her trip with Rich Moothart.

"We stopped, had a beer," joked Moothart about their long ride.

"Real, real wonderful ride," Tanji assured Moothart. "Next time we can go a little further."

Maria Gonzalez: 206-464-2449 or mgonzalez@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2003 The Seattle Times Company

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