LCN Cover Story 5.30

Riding with a cause

Plantersville man organizes successful bike-a-thon each year for St. Jude.

By BOBBY PEPPER

Lee County Neighbors

PLANTERSVILLE – Sextus Shannon admits he’s never experienced the agony of watching his own child battle cancer.

But after touring St. Jude Children’s Research Center in Memphis, the Plantersville resident knew he wanted to do something for the children undergoing treatments there and their parents. Inspired by the visit, he encouraged his friends to hop on their bicycles and ride for St. Jude.

Shannon, 54, has organized Plantersville’s annual St. Jude Wheels for Life Bike-A-Thon for 17 years. With local residents and friends from throughout Lee County and other counties coming in to ride, the bike-a-thon raised nearly $4,000 this year.

The bike-a-thon is a major event for the town of about 1,200 – bringing together folks from all walks of life for a good cause.

“It’s just a joy doing this,” he said. “It’s not all me. It’s a community thing. This is something we look forward to.”

Community event

This year’s Bike-a-Thon, which took place May 20, was once again a success. It featured 57 riders – ranging from adults on bikes to children in motorized toy jeeps – and just as many walkers who made the trip up and down Poplar Street which was blocked off for an hour.

The hub of the event is the Poplar Street Community Center, located on the west end of the street next to the railroad track. It’s the starting and finishing point of the bike-a-thon plus people gather on the grounds to socialize and enjoy hot dogs, fish, chicken and other food.

Shannon is a one-man whirlwind before and during the one-hour bike-a-thon. He goes back and forth on the community center grounds, checking on registration, getting updates on the food cooking, greeting friends and family, even helping stretch an extension cord so an inflatable slide can go up for the kids to enjoy.

“This is one hour every year, and it’s the busiest hour of my life,” said Shannon, slowing down long enough to chat with Tim Simmons of Booneville. Simmons, who works with Shannon at Omega Motion in Saltillo, brought his child to his first Plantersville bike-a-thon.

“For a person to give up his time to organize all of this, it’s amazing,” Simmons said.

The bike-a-thon is a community and family event. Tromaine Smith of Plantersville has fond childhood memories of riding in the bike-a-thon. Now 25, he shares the trip down Poplar Street with his 4-year-old daughter, Tay.

“Ever since I was a kid, I loved it. I’m still in it,” he said. “I’ve got my little girl riding with me. This is her second year to be in it. (The bike-a-thon) is going to be around for a long time to come.”

Shannon said the riders and walkers receive help from their community for the

fundraising drive.

“This is one event where the community, the businesses and churches get involved,” he said. “What we raise goes a long way.”

Inspired visit

A visit to St. Jude convinced Shannon that the patients of St. Jude and their parents needed his help.

“Someone gave my name to St. Jude and I was invited to tour the hospital,” he said. “Once I got there, I was so touched by the children and the work that St. Jude does. It motivated me to do my best to help those children.”

The bike-a-thon also give Shannon an opportunity to give back to the town where he was raised. His home was across the tracks from the community center.

Shannon, who doesn’t even own a bicycle, recalls his childhood when he learned how to share with his siblings. Through the bike-a-thon, Shannon believes it teaches others to do the same.

“My first bicycle, I had to share it with one of my younger brothers,” he said. “He and I shared that bicycle and we enjoyed it, but I have never owned a bike that I consider my own.

“My parents did the best they could. We learned to share,” he adds. “I was from a family of six and then my mom adopted four girls, and that made 10 of us in a three-bedroom home. I learned all of this from my parents. They taught me how to share.”

Seeing the large number of riders and walkers in the bike-a-thon and the turnout at the community center gives Shannon encouragement. It inspires him to continue bringing people together to raise money for the children at St. Jude.

“We’re all here for a purpose,” he said. “I feel like this is something God has given me health and strength to be able to do this type of project for the children and their families. I’m just happy I’m able to do it.”