No one wants to think about getting injured or sick at the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally. When emergencies do occur, however, the Christian Motorcycle Association has a team ready to help.
For about 15 years, CMA volunteers have come to the Black Hills for the rally. Their mission is to ease stress on patients and families whose vacation was disrupted by a medical problem. Teams of volunteers are at Regional Health hospitals in Rapid City, Sturgis, Spearfish, Lead-Deadwood and Custer, said Cary Klatt of Peterson, Iowa. Klatt and his wife, Pam, organize the rally volunteers.
"There's a real close mix of illness and accidents," Klatt said. "We'll help patients find their bikes or get their bikes, or take them to the pharmacy if they need to get medication after they're released. ... There's many times we've ended up helping local people. We've had several heart attack or stroke patients that come in, and the family is really distraught. Sometimes the patient is here alone because their family's not available, and we end up visiting with the patient.
"We're just supporting them to let them know there's somebody that actually cares about them and wants to help them in any way we can. Sometimes, patients can feel very much alone, and sometimes they're literally alone," Klatt said.
This year, between 30 and 40 CMA members were on rally duty, providing assistance during daylight hours. Some, such as the Klatts, stay for the entire rally. Others come for a few days as their schedule allows.
Every year, volunteers receive intensive orientation training from Regional Health and CMA. Volunteers don't provide medical assistance or offer medical opinions. They might offer to pray with patients and families but are sensitive to those who have other, or no, religious affiliations. And, in the era of social media when people have hundreds of friends online but might not know their next-door neighbors, the CMA volunteers learn how to talk to strangers, Klatt said.
"There's some things we've learned that help people feel more comfortable. Nowadays ... we just need to approach people in a little bit of a different manner than in the past. We don't want to step on toes or seem overbearing. We just want to help, ... not to get in their business or judge," Klatt said.
The CMA's help is a boon for Sturgis Regional Hospital at the time of year when its patient influx is heaviest, said Mark Schulte, president of the Sturgis Market for Regional Health.
"We're very grateful for them," Schulte said. "We have had a great relationship with Christian Motorcycle Association. ... As rallygoers are injured and have medical issues arise, quite frequently they have no resources around them. With Sturgis being the epicenter of the rally, we depend heavily on the CMA to help with transportation, whether it be for patients that have been discharged or other riders that were part of their group."
"(The CMA) helps with getting other family members to Rapid City if their friend or family member is transferred to Rapid City Regional Hospital. It's the little things like transportation of people who are impacted by a situation that really helps us be able to do our job, which is to treat patients and get them back on their way," Schulte said.
About 30 local residents support the CMA's efforts, Klatt said. The locals, dubbed "haulers," drive bikers back to their campground, hotel, or possibly Rapid City Regional Airport or the nearest bus station. Locals know the location of pharmacies and other services, as well as shortcuts to avoid rally traffic.
"We have (injured bikers) that need to go home but they have their tent and all their equipment. We go and pack up all their camping gear and get their stuff and bring it back to them so they're able to leave if they need to," Klatt said.
CMA volunteers even end up doing some detective work. If a bike or car gets towed away — sometimes with essential medication, identification or a phone inside — the volunteers track down the vehicle and retrieve the needed items, Klatt said.
"We have good local contacts with towing companies," Klatt said. "Usually the towing companies require some type of certification that we are who we say we are."
Sturgis resident Dana Sparks and her husband are bikers. Sparks has been a local volunteer for the CMA since its rally-time hospital ministry started. She's on call 12 hours a day; mostly she drives her van to pick up bikers who are released from the Sturgis hospital after being treated for non-life-threatening ailments.
"You get a little bit of everything," Sparks said.
She recalls an incident a few years ago when she picked up a couple of local rallygoers who'd been treated and released at the Sturgis emergency room. They needed a ride back to their pickup, which they'd left in a no-parking zone. "We drove around Sturgis for about an hour. He couldn't remember what street the pickup was parked on. They lived in Rapid City, so I finally just drove them back to their house," Sparks said.
Throughout the Sturgis rally, Klatt estimates the volunteers will help several hundred people and donate between 1,000 and 1,200 hours of their time. Klatt said the group is grateful for opportunities to serve.
"We would rather see that thanks go to Jesus. We believe this is a God-ordained thing. We really feel blessed to be a part of it," Klatt said.