At 96, woman in hospice finally gets to live her dream of riding a motorcycle

As soon as Helen Sharp got on the motorcycle, she asked if it could go faster.

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/ Source: TODAY
By Meghan Holohan

For most of her life, 96-year-old Helen Sharp had a dream: She wanted to ride a motorcycle.

As a young woman she enjoyed bike rides and when she and her husband, Arnold, married, they hoped to someday get a motorcycle. But raising a family and running a farm meant that the couple never took the plunge.

Sharp held on to hope that she would eventually take a motorcycle ride, even after Arnold passed away.

“It was something that she talked about for years. I knew that she wanted to do this,” daughter, Joyce White, of Mescosta, Michigan, told TODAY.

Helen and her husband Arnold loved riding bikes and dreamed of getting a motorcycle. He passed away before that happened and at 96 Helen wondered if she would ever ride a motorcycle. Chris Clark / Spectrum Health Beat

In February, Sharp, who has congestive heart failure and macular degeneration, started with Spectrum Health Hospice and Palliative Care. While her family worried that the move signaled a decline for Sharp, she actually started thriving in hospice. With her new medications she feels better and lost 47 pounds, mostly fluid that had been negatively affecting her health. As she improved, hospice social workers began wondering how they could help Sharp enjoy life.

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“(They) asked mom if she had anything on her bucket list and she said she would really like to ride a motorcycle,” White said.

After putting on a Route 66 bandana, a Harley jacket and her helmet, 96-year-old Helen Sharp was ready to take her first motorcycle ride, something she's dreamed of for decades. Chris Clark / Spectrum Health Beat

That’s when inspiration struck. Hospice employees knew that former Spectrum Health surgical technician Shelley Spedowske and her husband, Jim, ride three-wheeled motorcycles and the couple understands the importance of helping hospice patients find joy in life. They agreed to help out.

But Sharp felt fear creeping in: After decades of wanting to ride a motorcycle, she worried she waited so long it was too late.

"She said, ‘Well maybe I shouldn’t do this,'" White recalled. "I said, ‘Mom, you need to fulfill your dreams. This is what you had been asking for."

Soon after the motorcycle ride started Helen had a request. She wanted to go faster. Chris Clark / Spectrum Health Beat

On the day of the ride, Sharp received a pink Route 66 bandana to wear under her helmet as she donned a black Harley Davidson jacket.

As Jim Spedowske drove past fields, houses and forest, Sharp clutched him tightly and encouraged him to speed up. And, he did. For 20 minutes, Sharp sped through Bromley Park in Mecosta and felt her husband’s presence with her. Weeks later, she can't stop thinking about it.

“Some nights, I still can’t sleep. It was beautiful,” Sharp said. "I am almost 97. I can’t believe I got to ride a motorcycle."

Her daughter feels overwhelmed by what hospice has done for Sharp.

“Her health has improved,” White said. “She got to fulfill one of her dreams that she wanted to do. It was just amazing to her. She still talks about it every day."

Joyce White knew her mom long dreamed of riding a motorcycle. When hospice social workers told them that Helen Sharp could finally ride a motorcycle, White told her mom to take the chance. Chris Clark / Spectrum Health Beat

Sharp says she hopes others learn from her 20 minutes on the back of a motorcycle.

“If you’ve got a dream, go ahead and push it and get that dream to come true,” she said.