BAY MINETTE, Alabama - Starla Chapman has put cancer in her rearview mirror, but that doesn't mean she's stop serving as an inspiration for the BMB Rockets Motorcycle Club and the BMB Rockettes Social Motorcycle Club. They'll hold the third annual Ride for Starla at noon Saturday at Faulkner State Community College in Bay Minette.
Starla's fight against leukemia garnered national attention two years ago. Now 5, the Bay Minette youngster had a spotlight turned on her struggle when Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron wore a bright yellow wristband during the Crimson Tide's victory over LSU in the BCS national championship game on Jan. 9, 2012. The wristband had been given to him by Starla when they met at USA Children's and Women's Hospital on Christmas Eve 2011. McCarron joined her support group, and with the yellow band around his wrist as a focal point, his high profile gave a lift to her support group, Team Starla.
Marsha Stevens, the president of the BMB Rockets, works at Faulkner State and knew Starla's parents, Korey and DeAndra Chapman, when they were students there. That was the spark for the first Ride for Starla.
"I remember when her mom and dad were attending Faulkner State," Stevens said. "I asked the president, Dr. (Gary) Branch: 'I really want to help Starla's family because they were our students. They're part of Faulkner State.' And he said, 'Whatever you need us to do, we're going to do.' I said, 'We'd like to use the campus and have access to campus police to help us with the escort.' As soon as I said that, the campus police showed up in my office.
"We say that it's a ride, but when we did the Ride for Starla that day, people were saying it was like a spiritual thing -- not a motorcycle ride, but a spiritual journey, because we actually went to see her. We went to the hospital. The bikers didn't have no idea where they were going that day. They just came because they were inspired, too, by this child. Her mom had made arrangements with the hospital where we were able to see her. We said a prayer for her outside, and she saw the bikes and everything.
"I asked her mom, 'What did Starla say to you after we left there the other day?' She said, 'All those motorcycles and nobody gave me a ride.' She told her, 'Baby, we couldn't give you a ride. You're in the hospital.' So I said I wanted to do it again because Starla was doing so much better, but she continued to be an inspiration to everybody, and I wanted to give her a ride. She wanted a ride; I wanted to make sure she got a ride. When everybody got there last year, we had her a little T-shirt and the club got her a motorcycle vest. I asked the guys when we got ready to do the ride, 'Who wants to ride Starla?' They were all like, 'I want to ride her. I want to ride her.' I said, 'Put your money where your mouth is. You're going to have to pay to ride her.' So we chose a guy to ride her, and she got a ride around the parking lot."
Last year's ride benefited the Ride for Starla Scholarship Fund. This year, Stevens hopes to raise money for the Ride for Starla Scholarship Fund and BMB Charities.
"The first year, we did it for Starla, and we also were able to help a couple of other people that had health problems," Stevens said. "Last year, I asked Starla's mother, since she was doing good and her cancer was in remission, if we could continue to use her name and make that our scholarship. So we did a scholarship last year in Starla's name. We raised the funds to provide a scholarship for a local Baldwin County student. This year, we're shooting to have more riders. We've got two people with health issues that we're trying to help, and we're hoping to make enough money to do the scholarship, too."
Stevens said organizers have designated Baldwin County High School student Leilani Smith of Stockton and Bay Minette resident Tommy Gandy as the beneficiaries of Ride for Starla III.
Registration will be held from 10 to 11:30 a.m. Saturday in the front parking lost at Faulkner State. Riders also are able to register online this year, or they can print the registration form and bring it to Faulkner State on Saturday. The cost is $10 per rider and $10 per passenger. Those who want to donate but not ride also can make contributions online.
Stevens said this year's ride would follow back roads to Stockton, then return to Faulkner State.
"Her mom is just awesome, letting us keep her name out there because she's the inspiration behind this," Stevens said. "And we're not going to stop. Every year, we're going to do something for somebody. We know that God had a hand in this because it's just a miracle that she came back. She just inspired so many people and so many different types of folks. The first year, we had riders coming from Florida, Mississippi, all parts of Alabama. It didn't matter what kind of bike they had. It just made everybody unified."
Stevens said sometimes bikers carry a bad reputation, but the Ride for Starla III is just an example that most bikers don't meet the stereotype.
"The BMB Rockets and Rockettes -- we love to ride. That's what we do," Stevens said. "But we're not all about riding, we're not about partying, we're not about drinking. We're not about all that kind of stuff. We want to do for our community. We live here. We want people to know that bikers are an entity in your community.
"I went to church once when we did a ride when one of the biker's mom died. We gave her an escort. The preacher got up and said, 'Wow, this is something else. Look at all these bikers we've got in church.' So when I got up and spoke, I said, 'No, you have bikers in church every Sunday. Just because we're bikers doesn't mean we don't go to church. We just don't have our colors on. We just don't have our leather vests on, so you don't know we're bikers. In my club, we have guys who have gone to Afghanistan. We have a sheriff's deputy. We have school teachers in our club. I work for Faulkner State. We're people in our community, and we just want to give back to our community."